|[ !(/uploads/2011-09/Home-Meet-AmeriCorps.png “Home||Meet AmeriCorps”) ](/uploads/2011-09/Home-Meet-AmeriCorps.png)|
This month, the lights on Meet AmeriCorp—a directory and messaging service for AmeriCorps members that launched in 2006—has gone dark for the last time. With over 450 members and a long history of technical problems and blackouts, I’m relieved to pull the plug though a little sad that the 80,000+ AmeriCorps members who serve every year still have great difficulty connecting with eachother.
Meet AmeriCorps started as ServiceSpeak in 2005, which was my introduction to CivicSpace—Howard Dean’s presidential campaign-technology spinoff—and eventually led me to Drupal, the platform Meet AmeriCorps is built on (Drupal 4.7, to be exact). The design was minimal, but I spent many hours on enriching the experience for users—which still annoys me 5 years and 3 major Drupal releases later that Users are still 2nd class Drupal citizens when it comes to treating them like a fully-fledged content type. This meant repurposing a lot of specialty node fields and taxonomy code (like tag clouds) for users; and creating rich lists of users and fun stuff like geographic hierarchies (clicking through a weighted tag-cloud of States to see a weighted tag-cloud of Cities). Looking back, the code wasn’t pretty (and there were a few hacks to core [shudder]), but Meet AmeriCorps, for being 5 years old, still has more character and spunk than many modern Drupal-based websites.
|[ !(/uploads/2011-09/California-Meet-AmeriCorps-150x150.png “California||Meet AmeriCorps”) ](/uploads/2011-09/California-Meet-AmeriCorps.png) [ !(/uploads/2011-09/rebecca-Meet-AmeriCorps-150x150.png “rebecca||Meet AmeriCorps”) ](/uploads/2011-09/rebecca-Meet-AmeriCorps.png) [ !(/uploads/2011-09/Map-Meet-AmeriCorps-150x150.png “Map||Meet AmeriCorps”) ](/uploads/2011-09/Map-Meet-AmeriCorps.png)|
|[ !(/uploads/2011-09/Interests-Meet-AmeriCorps-150x150.png “Interests||Meet AmeriCorps”) ](/uploads/2011-09/Interests-Meet-AmeriCorps.png) [ !(/uploads/2011-09/All-about-Meet-AmeriCorps-Meet-AmeriCorps-150x150.png “All about Meet AmeriCorps||Meet AmeriCorps”) ](/uploads/2011-09/All-about-Meet-AmeriCorps-Meet-AmeriCorps.png) [ !(/uploads/2011-09/So-you-need-help-Meet-AmeriCorps-150x150.png “So you need help||Meet AmeriCorps”) ](/uploads/2011-09/So-you-need-help-Meet-AmeriCorps.png)|
|[ !(/uploads/2011-09/Service-Area-Meet-AmeriCorps-150x150.png “Service Area||Meet AmeriCorps”) ](/uploads/2011-09/Service-Area-Meet-AmeriCorps.png) [ !(/uploads/2011-09/Alaska-Meet-AmeriCorps-150x150.png “Alaska||Meet AmeriCorps”) ](/uploads/2011-09/Alaska-Meet-AmeriCorps.png) [ !(/uploads/2011-09/user-account-Meet-AmeriCorps-150x150.png “user account||Meet AmeriCorps”) ](/uploads/2011-09/user-account-Meet-AmeriCorps.png)|
Technology aside, Meet AmeriCorps scratched a lot of philosophical and ideological itches—from organizing to communication and technology—in a time when no one was sure if Facebook would stick (not to mention the advertising and personal data collection, either). Last year, when it was finally clear that Meet AmeriCorps should be sundowned, I penned this open letter about the project and the AmeriCorps ecosystem in general:
Since we launched this website, first as ServiceSpeak then Meet AmeriCorps, our goal has always been to connect AmeriCorps members and alumni. Networking members, within communities and across the country, enables them to learn from one another and bonds them in the shared experience of service. We believe this creates greater well-being in members, greater impact upon the communities they serve, and greater strength to national service as a whole.
5 years ago the technology needed to create a successful online community required both commitment and technical skills. Frustrated with the lack of investment by AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), we spent considerable time surveying, designing, building, launching, and incorporating feedback into Meet AmeriCorps. We were informed by our own experience as AmeriCorps members and motivated by our desire to better recognize the innate experience and ability of its corps members.
Today, anyone can create an online community without significant resources or technical skills. Online social media and social networking tools now require only passion and commitment to create thriving communities of practice. Many new communities have already been created by other AmeriCorps members who identified the same needs and opportunities we did so many years ago.
Unfortunately, AmeriCorps and CNCS still place little emphasis on connecting and networking their members. Official websites are created without community input, poorly designed, rarely communicated to members, unmoderated by knowledgeable staff, and frequently replaced with equivalently disengaged websites. Communication tools are designed for top-down announcements rather than bottom-up dialogue, and even then are used rarely to meaningfully inform members or recognize their abilities and impact.
We are glad that technology is now accessible enough for AmeriCorps members to connect themselves. We are disappointed that that AmeriCorps has not done more to lead, nurture, facilitate and inform these networks. With the energy of the Obama administration and its complementary focuses on both national service and empowering uses of technology, we hope that AmeriCorps and CNCS will better recognize the individual benefits and national impact a purposely and well-connected corps can have.
The Meet AmeriCorps Team