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.

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.