Time to get organized

Facebook Groups: Love ’em or Hate ’em, but Use ’em!

By now with a generation of social media usage most who log in to any of their favorite forums acknowledge they have many strengths and weaknesses. I am not a great fan of Facebook in the “meta” sense (fitting they changed the company name to that), but after searching for alternatives, I’ve come to the conclusion that for affinity groups, Facebook is the least of all evils.

I’ve been an administrator for a handful of FB groups for a couple of years, and I’m very active keeping them on task and free of spam, trolls, and divergent topics. I have compiled here some suggestions for new members of any FB group, and some tips to make your FB experience as painless as possible.

Caveat: These are my opinions and suggestions only. Some of my fellow group moderators agree with me, some are upset with me and take these suggestions personally–after all they set up their group with the best of intentions and it is seriously not their fault that FB, and the rest of the social media blovioverse, stymies those intentions.

Premise: Facebook, love it or hate it, holds a near monopoly on user-friendly means to communicate in groups. I’ve looked at ’em all–Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, heck even MeWe–none cornered the market for eyeballs as well as FB when it comes to attracting people to Groups. And for all its flaws, you can get the most out of FB Groups if you understand its upsides and downsides.

  1. Get to know the group before you post. Your post may have already been the sum and substance of many others. Learn from the group you wish to join before adding –inadvertently, with the best of intentions– clutter and duplication. Know this: If your group has 10,000 members, that does *not* mean 10,000 people will see your post. There may only be a few dozen who are actually “following” the group and so get notified of new posts. Another few dozen might only check in on a regular basis, so they will see your post–if they scroll down through all the posts since they last checked in. The main group I moderate has nearly 9,000 members, yet the posts with the most “reach” estimate only 1/4 have seen the post. Far fewer comment on and less “like, love, or ha ha” them. So, post relevant stuff, briefly, and infrequently.
  2. Check out the header of your group before you post. It usually contains rules. It almost always defines what will fly, and what won’t. Follow these rules. If you’re not clear, contact an administrator. Also, is it a general, worldwide topical group? Or a regional subtopic of some larger subject? I’m a moderator for one regional group, two worldwide topical groups, and one subtopic group. While the worldwide group may welcome “come one, come all” keep in mind that several posts in a week on a regional aspect of that group’s mission may overwhelm the feed and keep people from seeing posts that came later than they previously checked in but before you posted again. The subtopical group is about how to make solar cookers DIY–needless to say, posting a celebration of ones first commercially bought solar oven is out of place. Most members are magnanimous about it, but for people seeking a haven away from the commercial brands and want to itch their maker scratch, it’s a distraction.
  3. Look at the most recent posts before you post. The most frustrating experience of veteran group members is when we post something new, novel, innovative–and then two minutes later, someone posts something that’s already been hashed out, or is of a piece with several recent posts. It will be welcome! But please know that your post now pushes the previous post down the ladder. Then the next post pushes it down another rung. Before you know it, a new (and maybe even important!) thread has been buried. Think of the group as a meeting, one speaker at a time is ideal, otherwise it’s a cacaphony of chatter. Worse, with FB, it’s as if you just spoke to the group, and someone walks up and says “Great, but here’s something else to distract you.” With large, active groups, we are blessed and cursed with active and vocal members. Blessed in that we all seek new posts, aim to lift each other up with their efforts, and overall feel a sense of community–such as one can have in the virtual world. Cursed in that the structure of Facebook is meant to keep the company profitable, not just solvent, and the way group posts get sorted doesn’t resemble anything in the real world. Emphasis: This structural problem is not your doing, it’s Facebook’s. It’s wonderful that FB makes enough money that we can set up our personal and group accounts for free. But don’t think for a second that FB will spend a lot of time making the group experience more like–well, a group that meets in real time, or even online. Especially when their revenue-generating ads are kept out of groups, wo why would they make it more “group-friendly.”
  4. There are many topical FB groups that duplicate each other’s missions–but it is a grave mistake to think that this increases meaningful communication among like-minded FB posters. Just try to find a group to be your home for learning about permaculture. There are dozens of groups, ranging from a few dozen members to several tens of thousands. First, unless you are a member of all those groups, you are bound to miss posts–important or trivial–posted in the ones you aren’t a member of. Communications experts call this “Channel Dilution” and it simply means, the more avenues we have for communicating the same message, the less actual meaningful communication overall takes place. If you *are* a member of all those permaculture groups, FB at least does you the favor of notifying you whenever there is a new post in any of them. But do you seriously have the time to follow even the most recent posts of dozens of groups? My experience is that being on multiple groups with the same theme and mission, one group will have a poster who things they’ve come up with something new–because they aren’t on a more active and better-managed group. So, you will be pulling up a lot of posts over and over again, that you’ve seen before. Yes: It is a big time waster, the biggest one I’ve experienced. To cut to the chase: Don’t think that joining a dozen groups with the same theme will net you 12 times as much meaningful communication–it simply won’t. I’d be happy to send you an analysis I ran by a veteran in communications education who validated every point.
  5. FB thinks it is a great option to consider making your group private. This is a good choice for sensitive groups–e.g., victims of domestic abuse may want their posts to stay within the group; creative types might want to keep their posts within a certain circle of colleagues as they develop potential inventions or programs. There are several flaws with this rationale, but the two worst are: Your posts to a “private” group can always be screen-grabbed and shared anyway, anywhere. And when you *do* want to share a post outside the group—you can’t. With the proliferation of groups covering the same topic, and the topic isn’t controversial, you are basically hording good stuff with your private group, or if you want to share, you have to check in with your other groups and go through the process of re-posting. You want a time waster? It’s built in.
  6. Do you want everyone in a group to see your post–all of it, including photos? If no, and your FB settings only share your posts with “Friends” or “Friends of Friends,” then please don’t join the group. Anonymous posts are killers of group discussions. The members of the group who aren’t your friends aren’t going to see your post–another turnoff to people wanting to participate in a meaningful conversation with fellow fans of your group’s topic. And if you have set your Facebook account to “only share with friends”–then unless you’ve friended all 5000 people in your group, most are not going to see it. If YES, then make sure your public posts can be seen by “Public.”
  7. Hey you loved someone’s post, but don’t have anything to add or to ask of the poster–then just click on Heart or Thumbs Up, or HaHaHa if you really found it humerous. DON’T post a dancing squirrel with heart-thumping GIF file–this is as flow-stopping as a post that repeats something already said. Actually more so, as your post might be three sentences, and only take up an inch of screen row space. The GIF likely fills most of the screen. If you are in the habit of doing this in *groups*, please stop!

So to summarize:

The conundrum with Facebook Groups is that its format’s problems are everybody’s problems, but nobody’s fault but Facebooks. The solution takes cooperation from everyone. And when given a sparing but focused effort, the rewards can be enormous.

You are most welcome as a newbie, and your posts will be too. But get to know your group before creating threads that crowd out the rest of the group’s conversations.

Don’t join all the groups with the same topic–just because they all cover the same topic. You’ll be the victim of the phenomena described above. If you have all the time in the world, don’t worry about it. But I will bet you don’t, and you have a life outside of Facebook.

Find the largest group with the most active conversations and the most active moderators. They zap spam and bots on as close to a 24/7 basis as is possible. A group left unattended by its moderators will mean more spam posts, more irrelevant chatter, and even flaming and trolling. For like-topic groups with roughly the same number of members, join/follow the group with the most moderators–more moderators means more frequent take-downs of spam and a group esprit de corps in enforcing rules.

Finally, one thing to celebrate–and don’t tell Facebook this: If you bookmark Facebook, don’t just bookmark Facebook. BOOKMARK YOUR FAVORITE GROUP, so you will go to it first and foremost. You’ll notice that ads and “Facebook suggests…” garbage does not pollute the groups! You open the group, and you are among friends, friends that don’t turn on the radio or keep looking at their phone while they are talking to you, or unsolicited, showing their latest baby’s diaper change. If you are committed to the topic or cause of that group, you’ll appreciate even the most mundane of posts–because it didn’t get crowded out by FB’s suggested “Reelz” or potential friends you’ve never heard of who may just know one of your other FB friends or ads for something you just bought anyway…Then, go to your other favorite groups.

One last general FB tip (I might need to revise this for more, but this one has spared me hours of time better spent on my non-virtual world priorities: UnFOLLOW (but do not UnFRIEND) your FB Friends. Your general FB feed will have all their latest posts–wonderful! But not so wonderful: Your general FB feed will have all their latest posts! How many friends to you have on FB? I have several who have deleted their FB accounts exactly because of the in-between clutter FB always adds to your general feed. That clutter goes away when you don’t automatically follow all of your hundreds of FB friends. I have FB friends that I’m more connected with locally, or as a colleague in one my groups, and I will link to whenever I want, and–guess what? No FB ad clutter there either! I actually can see what they are up to, converse with them a titch, and move on! Or not! I can always catch up later.

When I say FB doesn’t care to improve the format of Groups to make it more like a human conversation, I mean it and have direct experience: Once I got an email from a FB outreach staffer, offering to meet online to chat about what could be improved with the Facebook experience, with a focus on Groups. Probably because I’ve been an active moderator, they zeroed in on me? I let this guy know it was bizarre to see some people requesting to join our humble solar cooking groups–when they already belonged to hundreds of other groups. I noted the concern raised all over about social media addiction, and suggested FB could help these people focus. I.e., join a group you really intend to follow and participate in. I detailed how, in my neighborhood, we had a serious crime problem in the 1990’s, and as a chair of the neighborhood association’s committee, I got frustrated with dozens showing up at a meeting but almost no one stepping up with meaningful action. I finally insisted as people signed in for the meeting, to list on the sign up sheet, one or more of the groups projects detailed on the sign-in table. Attendance dropped to about ten on average–but those ten people took charge, felt more unified in their mission than when another twenty showed up to sit on their hands or worse, complain without offering their time to help. We saw a dramatic drop in crime over the coming two years–so much so our metro paper noted our neighborhood as being exceptional. I lamented to this guy that FB, measuring their success in eyeballs and revenue, discounted the even more powerful effect they could have that would cost them nothing, improve their image, and actually attract more people who weren’t turned off by the horror stories they heard. Instead, they could have even a chatbot take care of walking through people’s selections of groups to join after, say, they pulled up their twenty-first group. They could also, instead of automatically making you follow a new accepted friend, that they should ask after accepting, “Do you want to follow your friend?” He thanked me for his input but I sensed that I was speaking Greek to a Venusian. And not that I expected any changes but–sure enough, things got even worse in the general Facebook feed, which led me to unfollow just about all of my friends. I set aside a couple hours a month to scroll through them and seriously only click on the “I wonder what old whats-his-face is up to” friends…

Has this saved me tons of time? Honestly, not tons, but some, and enough time that I feel my participation in groups is worthwhile, and my good real-world and purely “FB” friends are not offended, whether they follow me or not.

Postlude: Most of the links I found when googling “How to use Facebook without wasting time” think it’s your responsibility to watch the clock or take steps such as “only check in 2 or 3 times a day.” These are useless. Have you ever tried that for other meaningful activities in your life? That’s the problem–those are meaningful, whereas much of FB isn’t (gasp!).

Well, as Blaise Pascal wrote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter.” πŸ™‚ This is longer than it needs to be, but in fact it was written in one sitting, not several distracted sessions in between irrelevant FB posts or scrolling through “been there, seen that” re-posts and spams. My time is now my own again, and when I waste it, it’s my own dang fault. And that is more than acceptable.

My Solar Podcast Tour

Updated: February 12 2023!

September 19 to October 10 2020, I set out on a road trip with Covid-safe protocols in place to interview several solar cooking great in the western U.S. These video podcasts were all stored on Vimeo.

I have since hit the road four more times, and have many more hoped-for as I intend to retire from my day job soon. Meantime, you can sample all my solar cooking video visits at:

Living Off The Sun: Part 2, “The Question Man.”

We’re living in interesting times, with polarized politics in many countries. Here in the U.S. one polarized issue is global warming–happening or not? Here’s my take:

* We can kill a river, and the dead river kills a lake (Cayahuga, Erie). But we can’t kill the atmosphere?… not even make it a little “sick”?

* We can atomically contaminate hundreds of square miles of land, killing and mutating the life therein (Chernobyl), but throwing teragigs of carbon into the atmosphere will have no impact on weather, crops, sea levels?

* We can kill a sea (Aral) by diverting it’s life force and filling it with pollutants, but CO2 and other chemicals in the air–no difference whatsoever?

* We can create a “sea-fill” –the oceanic version of a landfill– accumulating in the Pacific Gyre, and gradually kill off just about every kind of living sea creature across the globe, but the garbage in our air won’t harm us that breathe it?

So, someone tell me what I’m missing. How can we contaminate and destroy bits and pieces of the earth, but expect no reckoning for moving carbon from underground and into the atmosphere? Long ago when news came mostly from the print media, you’d find the occasional column by “The Answer Man.” I don’t have answers, I tell my climate skeptic friends, but I have a lot of questions. Call me The Question Man.

And I’m not waiting for answers, I’m just doing what 1/8,000,000,000th of the world’s popluation can do to slow our collective asphyxiation. These past two days we’ve had near full-sun, after a gloomy fall and first few weeks of winter. And I’m cooking with the sun rather than with fossil fuels. I’m keeping most of the carbon I would otherwise use, in the earth where it belongs.


I thought I was being clever when I titled these posts “Living Off The Sun,” but I must give credit and tribute to one who says it better. Not coincidentally, it came from the inventor of the SunFlash, Steve Baer. I stumbled upon this quote online. It was a biographical sketch of Baer, toward the end of a chapter called “Steve Baer, Beatnik Engineer” (browse for that title, you’ll be rewarded with a summary of his work with solar). Baer expressed his frustration with the Reagan Administration’s trashing of nascent renewable energy tax credits: “In 1975, in a book called ‘Sunspots,’ Baer announced that he would go his own way, β€œan old farmer, farming the sky, worrying about the weather.”

“Farming The Sky”–a more direct way of saying he’s “Living Off The Sun.” I have Sun Spots, and thought I read it cover to cover, but I’ll break it out again as I don’t recall that wonderful quote. Thank you Steve, for showing the many ways we can harvest sunshine.

Living Off The Sun

I’ve been fortunate to network with numerous designers, manufacturers and users of solar cookers for over a decade. Along with sunny hearts many also have green thumbs, and as we say, “Live off the land.”

Lance and Jennifer ( were the target of my solar cooker collecting mania in the fall of 2018. I have accumulated 37 (!!) solar cookers since 2004, but I’d been fruitlessly searching for the Sunflash cooker, which originated with Zomeworks’ Steve Baer in Albuquerque, since I first read of its origins in “Heaven’s Flame.” Ultimately I returned to the world archives of google, to find the archives of the Solar Energy Association of Oregon and the testing of the Barker’s Sunflash, which was literally staked to their land and used regularly for cooking the fruits of their labor, “off the land.”

I wrote to Jennifer, asking if she knew anyone else who had a Sunflash cooker, as it was the last of my “missing in action” cookers I felt would complete my collection. Jennifer graciously offered to donate their Sunflash to the cause, and as soon as I could free up a week to travel to Oregon, I visited Lance and Jennifer at their wonderful Morning Hill Forest Farm in Canyon City in December. During and after a great dinner, made all of food from their garden, we talked about solar cookers past and present, the influence of Joseph Radabaugh’s “Heaven’s Flame,” and the broader topic of solar energy. A tour of their farm through fresh snow affirmed the life they’d chosen as best described in Home Power’s account in 2007 —

After three hours of fellowship, I loaded up the Sunflash and rode down the mountain roads and back toward the Minnesota prairie to bring it home. An hour outside of Canyon City, I noted that the clouds of the day had broken up, and unlike the night sky of my light-polluted home in Minneapolis, where maybe a dozen stars poke through the urban haze, I saw thousands of stars, and maybe it was just my imagination, but I think even the Milky Way swept across the horizon.

We all live off the land–most of us, through the labor of others. Thanks to my wife’s father’s labor, our 120 square feet of reconstituted backyard soil produces a daily salad through most of the summer, with the bonus of dried herbs in the fall and many grocery bags’ worth of vegetables. While we can’t come close to the commitment of the Barkers, we are inspired by their work and many other “post-modern pioneers,” and have lessened our dependence on fossil fuels and the carbon footprints of diesel-delivered greens to the degree that we can.

While I slowed down on the asphalt Oregon Trail to look at the night sky, I thought about those thousands of suns up there and it occurred to me that Morning Hill not only shows how we can live off the land, but also how we can “live off the sun.” Their solar panel array covers their power needs and then some, and with a battalion of solar ovens at their disposal, cooking food that couldn’t have grown without sunlight, their harnessing of the sun for all it’s power is complete.

For over a hundred years we’ve built a culture where we no longer cycle through the carbon we need and put it back into soil, food, and forests, but rather, we gorge ourselves on limited fossil fuels, only to belch it into the air where it really doesn’t belong, certainly not in the volume the atmosphere is bearing in this century. After nearly three years of generating our own electricity with solar panels, and fourteen years of cooking when we can in the “variety weather belt,” we are inching toward our own way of living off the sun.