Who are these enthusiasts? What good can they do me? Where can they be found? That's what I wish to address in this post.
Profile of an enthusiast
First, there is considerable overlap among these various groups. It is very possible than enthusiast about a given topic may be a peer or an expert of some kind. But in general, I'm suggesting that there exist many groups and individuals within reach (often electronically) who know a lot about a specific topic and who take pleasure in sharing that knowledge. They may not be credentialed, but they are usually experienced, and they have some kind of domain knowledge that gives them authority. They stay current on their field and interact with others on their favorite topics. Unlike one's homies, enthusiasts don't really know you as a person; unlike peers, enthusiasts may not share a common age or situation. Unlike experts, enthusiasts are less likely to be intimidating. You should find enthusiasts because they are likely to give you frank, quick feedback on your developing ideas, without the pressure of feeling as though your query or your project must be all that developed. If you show some basic knowledge and enthusiasm for a topic that they care about, they are likely to want to help you out.
Enthusiasts may be reviewers, bloggers, commenters, or curators. They are amateurs, not paid professionals. That gives you some clues of where to find these people.
You can find enthusiasts locally and in face-to-face settings through community events or (if near a college or university) by way of clubs, performances, or other events. It is often easiest to find enthusiasts by way of the social media today (see the list below). While one need not be part of such social networks, enthusiasts are often more prone to help out other members of a common community.
How to interact with enthusiasts
Observe what the enthusiast has been doing -- curating content, organizing a wiki page, writing reviews, etc. Make an effort to understand and respond to some of that enthusiast's ongoing efforts. After showing this genuine interest (and perhaps after a bit of exchange), you can then ask their opinion on something. Be careful about overwhelming them! But if you have a focused question on a topic of common interest, they are likely to respond. It's better to leave a short question and a link to a larger version of your query than it is to dump a whole lot of content on that person and expect them to go through it.
You are likely to find that enthusiasts will give you needed feedback, and that this in itself will be validating (will give you "social proof" of the worth of your project), thus increasing your enthusiasm to complete and ultimately to communicate your formal project.
Starting points for finding enthusiasts:
- Live web searches (search.twitter.com)
- Topic searches within social networks and groups
- Social book sites
- Social presentations sites