The Art of Hosting

Copied from the emaillist, Oct.'12:
Hi all,
Last summer my friend Geoff Brian and Steven Wright and I facilitated some cafes for a 600 person conference on indigenous housing. We wanted to use a digital harvesting tool that was accessible to anyone with a mobile phone and so we hired Luke Closs, a local developer here in Vancouver to cobble together a simple solution. He agreed but only if the tool became Open Source (a man after my own heart).
While continuing to work with and refine the tool Luke has got it into an interesting place and its now very useful for capturing insights from large gatherings with many people. All that is needed is for participants to text insights to a local number and the back end helps you sort stuff and even make a wordle.
Luke put up a site today for the tool:
Go have a look and let your imagination run wild and then use it.
Luke is copied on this email if you want to reach him directly.
Hello everyone,
Wanted to add my support of Luke and his SMS Harvest tool as I used it at a 800ish person cafe this week with Nancy White and Avril Orloff. Brilliant! As the rounds progressed we had the 'stream' projected so the room could see what the room was texting in. Between the rounds we created a Wordle and displayed them to the room; as the stream was flowing we had noted some interesting bits that we popcorned out to add context to the Wordle.
It is simple to use and adds a valuable layer to the sense-making; we ended up with a kind of 'book of proceedings'  from all the text messages, grouped by question. In this cafe we had 1156 messages come in from 289 senders. Lots to harvest from.... Avril created a couple of great charts from the cafe drawing on both the tablecloths, the SMS Harvest messages and what we were hearing/seeing.
I'm excited to work with SMS Harvest again - I said to Luke that we are just scratching the surface of what's possible with his creation!
Hi Geoff,
I would definitely like to use your SMS Harvest tool with my masters students here in Sweden. How do I sign up? Sounds ideal for many of our sessions here!

Tracy Meisterheim


Hi Tracy,
Thanks for the interest in SMS Harvest! Unfortunately it doesn't look like I can get a Sweden phone number that can accept text messages.
I could get a UK number, but I'm not sure if that would incur expensive texting costs for you and your students. (It would likely depend on which mobile company you're with and which plan you have ...)
If you think this is still interesting I'd be happy to talk more.

Best, Luke


I am also very interested in this new tool.  I am thinking it could be used to harvest all kinds of discussions, including discussions of people not in the same room.  But I am curious.

When it is used at a conference, the assumption is everyone has a mobile device that allows for texting? Cell phone and Internet based communication continues to be very expensive in Canada and out of the reach of many low-income citizens.  Thoughts?



At the PMI conference, they did a few things so that everyone could share ideas without costing lots of money. They tried to have at least one person per table who could send texts - some attendees came from out of country. They had a handful of people who were roaming and could send texts for anyone who needed it.

As far as technologies go, SMS is the one of the most ubiquitous for lower income folks. (Just look at the explosive use of SMS in africa). It's a much more accessible solution than anything requiring smart phones and data access, laptops or iPhone apps.
Best, Luke


Hi Morna: 

We did the same at the world indigenous housing conference, where folks with out of country sms plans relied on the kindness of those with Canadian texting plans.  That worked well.  For those without an SMS number in their country, because Twilio doesn't provide service there yet, it's possible to also build a twitter stream into the software so that it harvests from specific hashtags.  We didn't want to do that in the initial build because we wanted a tool that could be used immediately without having to register for anything.  It was cool to ask people to get out their mobile phones, turn them ON and start texting insights.  
It's certainly not the only tool that can be used to harvest from large group conversations, and if I was in a place where lots of people didn't have access to mobiles I'd do something else.  But for places where mobiles are ubiquitous, it's an extremely cheap and accessible technology.  We looked at a number of options for the large conference last June and they were in the tens of thousands of dollars for a technology that also required special hardware and a crew of people to look after it.
We found Luke and paid out something like $600 to develop and use this tool with a 600 person World Cafe.  At those prices I feel like we have driven the bottom out of the market for these kinds of technologies and I couldn't be happy to wreck the racket!

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