Thursday, September 20, 2007

How to create successful online communities

Seminar based on work of Heads together/Deputes together.

originally uploaded by phil h.
Can online users find they have too many ways to go - too much choice leading to confusion and rejection of all the tools. Why have previous Scottish communities struggled?

Too high expectations?

Activity levels - 2006 Nielson noted 90% lurkers, 9% contribute a little and 1% account for most. For blogs it is 95%, 5% and 0.1% "Blogs are interesting like diaries but if you don't have time to read through them..." {Blogs like diaries? Not convinced - DM}

Learning communities, communities of interest or communities of practice. Communities of practice take time, sustained interaction and trust. Confidence to share not just facts but trusts and beliefs. Changing practice requires reflection and time to reflect so that deep learning can take place. {So blogs can't be used for this reflection? - DM}

How do you encourage this?
  1. Invest in the means, not the end. Focus on generating traffic. Regular communication about what's happening in the communities.
  2. Oops... missed this
  3. Focus on the needs of the members. If something is set up by the members themselves it will be more successful.
  4. Resist the temptation to control. {Is this a lesson Authorities need to learn about Glow? - DM}
  5. Don't assume the community will be self sustaining. "It is nice that things change". The site should be refreshed.
  6. Collaboration has to be an over-arching theme.
Heads Together are averaging about 25% of their members logging in per month - c.f. the Neilson figures above - Heads Together is a very active community with a high level of message generation. The team has a fairly positive attitude to "lurkers". They have evidence of reflection and sharing that goes on outside the community. Not all members will have the same level of activity at all times.

Software has to be robust, easy to use, attractive and fast or the users will not come back. {As an example of ease of use, they have a button that says, "Thanks, I found this discussion useful". I wonder how this is set up? It could lose value if overused but I wonder if it is more like a rating system? - DM} There are resources there to bring people in but the community learns that the real pearls are in the discussion forums.

Staffroom - an area for relaxing. Example from current staffroom was a story from an early years head describing how a child told her they'd found a dead cat. "How do you know it was dead?" the head asked.
"I pissed in it's ear and it didn't move."
"You what?!"
"You know... I went 'Psst!" in it's ear and it didn't move."

Successful online communities need:
  • Purpose.
  • Induction. People need support - not just tools
  • Monitoring. "Sooner or later, someone will put up something inappropriate" {Is there a tension here with point 4 above? - DM}
If I have a pound and give it to my neighbour, he has a pound and I don't. If I have an idea and my neighbour has an idea we can share them and both win.

It takes time to get a community up and working.

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