Communities are enabled, not created

By July 16, 2008From mobile

Posted by mobile phone:
There is a good post from Mike on Techdirt this morning which discusses the why’s and wherefore’s of newspapers arresting their decline by building communities.

http://techdirt.com/articles/20080711/1644431654.shtml

I agree with his central assertion that newspapers have traditionally been communities to a limited extent via local advertising and classifieds, and that part of their problem is they have historically seen themselves almost entirely as content creators rather than community managers.

He is also spot on in saying that simply throwing a few community features onto the site won’t achieve anything.

As he says:

“You build community …. by enabling a group of people to do what they want”

I would add that you also need to give it a sense of purpose and some values. In the case of a newspaper the purpose is likely to be commenting on news, sharing news and furthering the debate, often with a political agenda, and the values are likely to come from the publication. Certainly that is how it seems in the vibrant community the Guardian has created in the UK. As one of the commenters to Mike’s post pointed out serious news and commentry are a more solid base for discussion and community than sex, scandal and other over-hyped tittle-tattle.

There is also no guarantee of success – I have been thinking of lots of biological analogies for community creation, and the best I’ve come up with is the breeding of rare animals in a zoo. You have to create the right conditions, male + female animal, right ages, suitable environment, good food etc – ie lots of important preparatory work – and then you just have to hope that nature takes its course. So it is with communities.

I also like Mike’s closing sentence:

“Newspapers should look to see what they can do to enable a community to form and then get out of the way”

I’m thinking a lot at the moment about communities and business at the moment, and in a wider context than just newspapers. Any thoughts, comments and help much appreciated.

  • Communities can happen in two ways – spontaneously or through the (typically) very hard work of an individual or small team. The single most enabling factor for an online community, beyond the obvious need to provide basic community tools… is the written word. Often this can come from a charismatic ‘leader’ or moderator and be achieved through community e-mails, blog posts or descriptive site text. It can be as simple as a well written guide for the posters in a discussion forum, or as involved as a full on integrated campaign of newsletters, individual personalized e-mails, blog posts, site text and general community stewardship. These are tricky and difficult to get right, and all the glossy design in the world won’t come close to matching a single, effective, written communicator.

  • Communities can happen in two ways – spontaneously or through the (typically) very hard work of an individual or small team. The single most enabling factor for an online community, beyond the obvious need to provide basic community tools… is the written word. Often this can come from a charismatic ‘leader’ or moderator and be achieved through community e-mails, blog posts or descriptive site text. It can be as simple as a well written guide for the posters in a discussion forum, or as involved as a full on integrated campaign of newsletters, individual personalized e-mails, blog posts, site text and general community stewardship. These are tricky and difficult to get right, and all the glossy design in the world won’t come close to matching a single, effective, written communicator.

  • Nnamdi

    Nick, your views are echoed by Facebook’s founder in that you cannot “create” community. His term for facebook is elegant organisation.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2007/jun/11/mondaymediasection.news

    It also ties in nicely with Clayton Christensen’s perspective that people hire tools to get jobs done.
    http://www.dinarstandard.com/innovation/ClaytonC022807.htm

    One way to start could be to define the jobs, even in a broad sense (eg building social capital), and wrap a service around those goals. To get it right, it is worth thinging about how the community would define recognise and define social capital.

    These might be of interest:

    http://blog.mixergy.com/why-how-to-build-social-capital-online-tara-hunt-interview/

    http://www.slideshare.net/missrogue/making-whuffie

    http://www.slideshare.net/missrogue/happiness-as-your-business-model-414463

  • Nnamdi

    Nick, your views are echoed by Facebook’s founder in that you cannot “create” community. His term for facebook is elegant organisation.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2007/jun/11/mondaymediasection.news

    It also ties in nicely with Clayton Christensen’s perspective that people hire tools to get jobs done.
    http://www.dinarstandard.com/innovation/ClaytonC022807.htm

    One way to start could be to define the jobs, even in a broad sense (eg building social capital), and wrap a service around those goals. To get it right, it is worth thinging about how the community would define recognise and define social capital.

    These might be of interest:

    http://blog.mixergy.com/why-how-to-build-social-capital-online-tara-hunt-interview/

    http://www.slideshare.net/missrogue/making-whuffie

    http://www.slideshare.net/missrogue/happiness-as-your-business-model-414463

  • Lepost.fr is a very good example of this strategy for the newspaper lemonde.fr (which has a brand new layout since today).
    Very interesting analysis.

  • Lepost.fr is a very good example of this strategy for the newspaper lemonde.fr (which has a brand new layout since today).
    Very interesting analysis.

  • There’s a Darwinian aspect to the way communitities develop with an ultimate “survival of the fittest” being determined by the community itself. In the same way that nature can produce a mutation that may benefit or hinder an entity and lead to it’s evolution or demise , the community can mutate in the same way. It just tends to happen on a much faster scale.

    If a community is hijacked and turned into a platform for gossip and scandal it will only survive if that’s what the community members want from it. Equally, if the community is driven towards more serious topics but they don’t engage or interest the community majority then it is likely to diminish.

    Communities these days are about common interest rather than physical proximity and to that extent the newspapers have always been a focal point with the common interests of Sun readers differing significantly from that of Guardian readers. What the newspapers can provide is the steerage and direction to reinvigorate the community if it becomes stale. And provide a platform for new community branches to spring into life.

    In business the same “common interest” will be what drives communities of IT specialists, VC commentators, entrepreneurs etc. And again what’s needed is for the community contributors to provide stimulating and invigorating content to keep it alive and aligned with the common interest.

  • There’s a Darwinian aspect to the way communitities develop with an ultimate “survival of the fittest” being determined by the community itself. In the same way that nature can produce a mutation that may benefit or hinder an entity and lead to it’s evolution or demise , the community can mutate in the same way. It just tends to happen on a much faster scale.

    If a community is hijacked and turned into a platform for gossip and scandal it will only survive if that’s what the community members want from it. Equally, if the community is driven towards more serious topics but they don’t engage or interest the community majority then it is likely to diminish.

    Communities these days are about common interest rather than physical proximity and to that extent the newspapers have always been a focal point with the common interests of Sun readers differing significantly from that of Guardian readers. What the newspapers can provide is the steerage and direction to reinvigorate the community if it becomes stale. And provide a platform for new community branches to spring into life.

    In business the same “common interest” will be what drives communities of IT specialists, VC commentators, entrepreneurs etc. And again what’s needed is for the community contributors to provide stimulating and invigorating content to keep it alive and aligned with the common interest.

  • I’m stating the obvious but different communities have different characters and I think one has to manage the potential community with that in mind. For example, I’m particularly interested in communities that generate tourism information. I’m not too interested in travel or tourism as self-expression(eg a blog) or as a means of meeting new people. I’m looking for detailed information. To do this I think you have to provide the technology, the means to filter that information and a big chunk of content to get the community working. I’m also expecting to sustain the input in terms of content thereafter. In terms of what I’m trying to achieve, I certainly do not think that one should ‘get out of the way’. In terms of an analogy, look to your kids and the community that springs up around that which you love.

  • I’m stating the obvious but different communities have different characters and I think one has to manage the potential community with that in mind. For example, I’m particularly interested in communities that generate tourism information. I’m not too interested in travel or tourism as self-expression(eg a blog) or as a means of meeting new people. I’m looking for detailed information. To do this I think you have to provide the technology, the means to filter that information and a big chunk of content to get the community working. I’m also expecting to sustain the input in terms of content thereafter. In terms of what I’m trying to achieve, I certainly do not think that one should ‘get out of the way’. In terms of an analogy, look to your kids and the community that springs up around that which you love.

  • nic

    Thanks for some great comments guys. Particularly Nnamdi – some great links.

  • nic

    Thanks for some great comments guys. Particularly Nnamdi – some great links.