Building Online Communities Followup

by chromatic

Related link: http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/network/2002/10/21/community.html




My article on building online community spread pretty far; I followed referrer links back to see what people were saying. The feedback was valuable. (As a writer, it can be frustrating to realize that for every comment you receive directly a hundred people didn't take the time to respond.)



A significant portion of the referrers were from established communities. Many of these were message boards of the kind I had in mind for some sections. A few were well-established, and most were not as technically minded as my examples.



Of the link blurbs that provided a bit of analysis, there were two main camps. One said, "Here's an interesting article full of things I'd never realized." The other said, "Here's an article full of common sense, but not saying anything really new." I'm pretty pleased with that -- I've been participating in communities of this sort for over a decade, but I haven't been studying them seriously. What I wrote, I had to discover on my own. It doesn't surprise me that smart people have learned the same things.



It was also nice to read, more than once, "It says things I knew but could never put into words."



Several of the linking communities were in the midst of change. A few were trying to recover from difficult times. Some were trying to find new directions. Hopefully my article gave the people in charge some good advice.



It surprised me to realize how far this little article could spread. There are a lot of communities out there -- something I knew but didn't understand until I traced links back. Wow.



One reader took the time to send me a very valid critique (after posting a somewhat stronger criticism on his favored message board :). Wingnut from Canada pointed out that I'd completely overlooked MUDs and MOOs as online communities. He's right -- I have little experience there. My guidelines
for the curve of writers versus readers won't apply. It's much harder to lurk on an online game.



Wingnut also thought I concentrated too much on growth as a goal. That was the point of the article, but there are definitely other excellent goals. I should have made this clear: the number of users (or the happiness of your users) is by no means the only measure of success. If you have another idea, feel free to pursue it.



I'm very happy with the feedback. Thanks for the links and comments, everyone.



Do you have a good experience with online feedback? Let's talk about it.


2 Comments

anonymous2
2002-11-13 11:16:43
Accountability
One thing that is important to stress is the aspect of accountability withith a community, especially in communities where things happen (eg patches get regected, nodes get nuked, comments get moderated).


As the PIC (person in charge) of a community, you are the linchpin of it all and you have to answer for everything that happens, the same as the CEO has to answer for all the misgivings of those underhim.


It's important to note here that by "answer for", I don't be "are responsible for". Users are the owners of their own actions, of course, but they are *your* users and you, while not responsible for their actions, are the person who facilitates them for better or for worse.


What this means, in real terms, is that shrugging of attachment by simply saying that they are their own person is not good enough. This doesn't mean that you have to always bow to the will of those who contents the actions of your users, but if you don't you have to give reason.


I'll take an example from the community I run -- suppose a certain user puts up questionable content, and when I find it, that user and I have a chat about it. Some users may complain about it, but I eventually side with the user that, for whevever reason, I think their content should be allowed to continue to exist under the grounds of free speech/humour/whatever. When the users that complained ask me why I let it stay, I am obligated by my capacity to explain why I did what I did. Saying "because I'm in charge, that's why" is not an aswer, and it will eventually lead to ruin.


This is important because you must always remember that while their community exists in your site, your site probably continues to exist because of their sustaining community. One party is not here purely because of the other, but instead you are a complementary set that support each other.


For the majority of sites, as goes the community, so goes the site.

anonymous2
2003-01-06 11:50:49
Backlinks
Have you built a list of your backlinks? I'd be very interested to see who else cares about building communities. --SebPaquet