The Second Act: Community Guy Rises

I’m Jake, the Community Guy.

You may not recognize me… I know it’s been a while. Or you have never heard of me, since I’ve been a bit of a recluse lately. But I’m the guy who loves online community and has spent the better part of my career trying to bring community engagement to life in the most impactful, world changing ways possible.

So where have I been for so long? Why cut back the speaking and blogging and meetuping? I’m glad you asked. Buckle in, there’s a story ahead.

In the last few years, I’ve been having a bit of a midlife (work) crisis. I’d worked my ass off to be a small part of helping the idea of online engagement, social media, and community building take root in the world since the mid-90s. I was the guy who bugged his friends and family at parties about the internet in the 90s. I was the guy who got way too excited when trying to get people to use Friendster and MySpace in the early 2000s. I was the guy who spent countless hours off the clock trying to help companies get excited about working directly with customers and fans. At the core of all this work was the belief that when we connect, even in small online ways, the world is a better place.

When you do something long enough, the excitement tends to fade. And I’ve been doing online community work for a long, long time now. And when we sold Ant’s Eye View to PwC my ability to share openly and speak publicly was restricted. Then I left PwC and joined Apple and those things were further restricted.

Then Trump was elected and I saw the world’s most powerful man, the leader of the free world use these tools I’d worked so hard to get societal buy-in for as a means to hammer intolerance, misinformation, and rivalry building. It broke my heart and made me question what I was doing with my career.

Shortly after that, my marriage collapsed in a brutally difficult fashion. I basically disappeared off social media, the same way I had recoiled from the world around me. As I recovered and started to post on social media again, I started to share small tidbits about the heartbreak. Outside of a very small circle of friends and family, everyone in my online world was shocked. “I had no idea anything was wrong”… “Your social profiles presented a picture of positivity, and I had no idea”. This reaction really shook me. I had created two worlds: one where everything was perfect, and another where everything had crumbled to the ground.

I decided this wasn’t acceptable.

So I started sharing, really sharing on Facebook. I titled my posts “Speaking honestly in public”, and I started sharing what I was really going through. I was raw, and real, and vulnerable. And brother, let me tell you… it was scary.

But an amazing thing started happening… people I knew, and people I barely knew started reaching out. They started sharing their stories with me about their own pain, their own divorces, their lives, their own struggles to be more honestly in public. They started telling me that my regular posts of brutal honesty were helping them feel less alone, and more empowered to embrace their own experiences. I’ve had more than one person tell me that they too were starting to speak more honestly in public.

And in this time, I was reminded why I love the online community space so much. I was reminded why I’m proud of my career, and proud of my impact on the world through my work over the years. I still think we could have done better, and need to continue pushing to improve this online community/social/whatever thing. But now I know I want to be a part of the solution, rather than selling oranges on the side of the road.

I’m back, baby.