inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #51 of 77: Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Fri 23 Nov 01 16:39
    
A sensitive topic in America is racism, and that got me to question
the role of race in virtual communities.  

While I am quite sure that the individuals who comprise the Well are
(for the most part) not racist, the Well is still overwhelmingly white.
 Are there virtual communities that are well integrated, and what did
they have to do to get that way?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #52 of 77: Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Fri 23 Nov 01 18:45
    
(Realizing that I'm sounding way too terse in my questions, but you
being a big-time author and all, I'd hate to sound undeferential. ;-) 
But it's awesome cool that you're participating in this marathon
interview, and that we get to learn so much from you.  Many thanks.)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #53 of 77: Doug Hess (dougrhess) Sat 24 Nov 01 06:05
    
Regarding political communities and action through web communities:

Here's a self-promotion blurb from a group called "e-advocates." They
design websites ( http://www.eadvocates.com )for advocacy groups and
help promote them. It is a different kind of community. Not a
free-for-all discussion board. But sort of like a membership group
(maybe without dues). You ask them to keep you informed and then you
participate if you agree.

"e-advocates designed and launched http://StopFamilyViolence.org in
five days, generating 164,000 e-mails to Congress in 12 weeks. The
campaign won the American Association of Political Consultant's Pollie
Award for Best Issue Advocacy Web site and won the issue according to
the congressional sponsors -- reauthorization of the Violence Against
Women Act. As the client's vision for the site evolves, e-advocates
continues to expand its capabilities. StopFamilyViolence and
e-advocates received coverage on ABCNews.com, Oxygen.com, Philanthropy
Journal, and PR Week for the campaign." 
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #54 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 24 Nov 01 06:05
    
Good questions, all... rather than ask a question, I want to point to an
activist site, since the question of activism came up. The site is
http://www.hatewatch.org, which uses Post-nuke, a php-based system
that's similar to Slash. At first glance, I don't get the sense that
many comments have been posted there, as compared to, say, Plastic or
Slashdot. Is this a matter of subject matter? Design? Visibility?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #55 of 77: the Angela Lansbury of guys (draml) Sun 25 Nov 01 03:30
    
Interesting site to point to, and to think to compare it to Plastic and
Slashdot, etc. My thoughts (for what they're worth!) are that it's hard to
see the functional design of Hatewatch being a problem, seeing how close
it is in that regard to the wildly successful grand-daddy of the type,
Slashdot. Although notably (and entirely understandably, given the subject
matter) it doesn't allow anonymous postings, which gives it a slightly
higher barrier to entry than Slashdot's ingenious Anonymous Coward system.

Isn't it more likely to be simply a function of the very narrow focus of
the site? Even Slashdot - news for nerds - has a much wider scope, and of
course Plastic is even more wide-ranging. I would have expected that
aspect to attract higher numbers, keep them (since, if you tire of one
focus, you can still use the same community as your interests change) and
also allow for a more social diversions that will encourage community
spirit, numbers and posting. And Plastic also came with a wide potential
user base (visitors to Wired, Feed, Inside, etc.) which will have helped it.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #56 of 77: Doug Hess (dougrhess) Sun 25 Nov 01 05:58
    
Thanks for the http://www.hatewatch.org link. A very interesting site.
I think Andrew (aka draml) is right about the reasons. This brings up
the whole anonymous user question, and how that can destroy a
community.

Last year I was considering law school (gasp!). I went to the
discussion board of the Princeton Review people only to find tons of
very hateful anonymous postings. Mostly people bragging about
themselves, their schools and complaing about affirmative action in
admissions. Apparently, law schools really are filled with assholes, I
concluded. Nonetheless, there were some useful posts, but rarely by the
anonymous, usually by people using their name and a non-free email
address (ie, their school email address). 

As a former community and labor organizer, I realize that community
projects often draw out the cranks -- the people with real or imagined
issues they have to get off their chest time and time again. So, while
I want to keep getting ideas as to how web communities can lead to
active life in public affairs, I am also interested in what kind of
participation can spoil a community.

(BTW, one community I use to be in alot is http://www.wetcanvas.com
this is an art community. You can post your art and get pointers from
other artists, etc. They have tried to sell art there, but it never
really caught on. More about trust and sales on line, later...)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #57 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 25 Nov 01 21:30
    
Hey Gang. It's been a good trip home, and the cold seems to be waning.
I'm packing up to head back home, and wanted to get to a few more
questions before I head back into airport madness. So....


On Wednesday, <ari> said:

"Derek, I was struck by the fact that you seem to approach
community-building from the perspective of a storyteller. You've also
mentioned working with Abbe Don, who also comes at interface design
from the perspective of a storyteller. Can you speak at all to how
storytelling influences your sense of community design, or how it
influences your sense of how to create a place for people to share
stories?"

Exactly right, Ari. Storytelling is my core
desire/interest/need/speciality. It was primarily my love of
storytelling that got me thinking about community in the first place.
Because, when you use digital tools to share your stories in networked
environments, a temporary virtual community is the inevitable result.

So what kind of environments are conducive to storytelling? It's a
great way to approach community spaces, because it's all about emotion
and empathy. Participants need to feel safe and welcome, they need to
all have a turn, to share the mic, to support and applaud. You could
learn a lot about virtual community at your local open mic.

There's so much more to say about storytelling and community. If I
every wrote a second edition of DfC, that's what it would be about.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #58 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 25 Nov 01 21:54
    
On Wednesday, Nancy White <choco> clarified her comments our
conversation about inclusiveness:

"As we talk about 'community,' 'inclusiveness' and 'barriers,' I
realize that I'm more and more working with online groups who HAVE to
get online together, community or not. They are a group first, perhaps
community later."

Aha! Now I understand what you were getting at. Sorry if I went off on
a wild tangent there.

Working with a pre-existing community is different than trying to form
a new one in a virtual realm, with it's own set of pros and cons.
Pre-existing communities already share a bond, which should make
bringing them together online easier. But you can't count on them being
comfortable with communicating in a virtual space. New virtual
communities, at least, can be expected to be somewhat familiar with the
technology, if only because they wouldn't be there otherwise.

It can be incredibly difficult to get a group communicating, when they
already
communicate in other ways, and when some of the group may not be
comfortable with the technology. You need a critical mass of
participation for it to begin at all. And sometimes you never get
there.

Nancy also added: 

"I was interested, Derek, in some of your positions about devolving
control where possible and appropriate to the users -- give them some
control of their environment to make it work for them."

While it may be tempting, I've found that user-customizations are
rarely a good incentive to get wary users to participate. Because,
usually, adding customizable features means adding a daunting interface
layer. If you've got a user who's threatened by the "post" button,
adding a dozen other to change the font, adjust the size, add columns,
remove columns, change colors ... agh! It becomes even more scary. 

In my experience, it's the hardcore users that want customizations.
And there are the users who are already invested and participating.

So how to get the wary new users to participate? Look at the site, as
much as possible, through their eyes. Do user testing. Find out what's
scaring them off. Remember to pay close attention to signage and help
text, and those places that are without it.

Some basic user profiling can help here, too. For example, the first
time you go to the Conversations area of DfC, you're greeted with some
simple welcome text that introduces the space. And this isn't hard to
do - it simply comes up for anyone who's not logged in. As soon as
you're logged in, I can assume that you've signed up, received the
introductory email, and verified your account. Therefore you don't need
to be bogged down with the intro text anymore - as soon as you're
logged in, it goes away.

It's little things like this that can help new users make the
transition into communicating in a virtual space.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #59 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 25 Nov 01 22:18
    
On Friday, <draml> said:

"Thanks, Derek, interesting points you raise there. It's depressing to
see so much open source effort go into the likes of Ikonboard and
Snitch which essentially do their utmost to re-create UBB albeit for
free."

Agreed!

And, I realized later, I never really said what I didn't like about
UBB and its clones. Lest anyone think it's a personal grudge, here's a
start:

-- Lack of design customization.

-- Button-happy interface: There's so much interface, the content of
the posts almost gets lost!

-- Difficult to navigate: How long did it take you to find the 2nd
page of a thread the first time?

-- Exposed admin tools: Why show users admin functions they can't use?
It only confuses and annoys them.

-- Heinous hierarchy: Count how many times you have to click before
you can actually get to someone's post. 

-- Designed to overwhelm: All those boxes and buttons and widgets. The
default design should be way more friendly.

There's more, but I'd have to start charging. ;-)


"I'm far from a company mouthpiece, but I don't think Salon is as bad
as it's
painted here; TT was mighty successful as a community in its own
right...."

Agreed. I'm only being hard on them because I hate to see opportunity
wasted. There are so many ways the whole experience could be improved,
I can only hope it's a lack of time/resources/money that's keeping them
from happening, not a lack of, well, clue.


"So, you have to get both ends right, is what I guess I'm trying to
say - neither works too well without the other."

Amen! The total connection between content and community is the holy
grail. Well, my holy grail, anyway.


"Out of interest, other than the communities you've set up and/or been
employed by, which have you been most drawn to, to participate in?
What appeals to them - do they follow the guidelines in your book? You
cover Slashdot, Plastic, etc. in DfC for example."

These days I'm much more interested in communities that do something
other than simply enable people to peck messages to each other. I like
FilePile (www.filepile.org) because it's file-sharing with a chaos
engine. The community is constantly posting files for download and then
talking about (and voting on) them. But don't look to the comments to
see the life-blood of the community - the best conversations take place
in the files. Visual conversations? You bet.

I also like GeoCaching (www.geocaching.com), a web-fueled,
techno-gadget treasure-hunt. And Nervousness (www.nervousness.org), a
barter-based ebay for artists and weirdos. I like these places because
they're pushing the boundaries of what virtual community is about? Do
they follow my advice? Not really - and that just makes them more
interesting to me.


(Glad you had a good Thanksgiving; sorry about the cold; but please,
take more Sudafed if it keeps you indiscrete for us all!)

Well, I'm feeling a little better today, so I've lost my excuse for my
impolitic behavior. Rats!
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #60 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 25 Nov 01 22:58
    
Finally (for tonight) Eleanor Parker <wellelp> said:

"While I am quite sure that the individuals who comprise the Well are
(for the most part) not racist, the Well is still overwhelmingly
white."

It sure is! I mean, how about a little #003366 around here? Or a
#000000 page or two. All this #ffffff is getting me down. ;-)

But seriously, Elanor, do you have a secret decoder ring I don't have?
I don't have the slightest clue what race most people I talk to online
are, nor do I really want to know (unless it's somehow relevant to the
discussion, and approached with the greatest care).

Of all the idyllic myths of virtual community that have gotten lost
over the years, there's one I still hold on to: the fact that when we
meet in this realm, we meet on ideas first, faces later. This is the
opposite of the way the real world works, where assumptions are made
based on appearance before you have a chance to open your mouth. Here,
race is only an issue when you make it one.

I don't want that to come out sounding hostile or anything. (I was
shooting for bemused.) I'm not so naive that I think race doesn't
matter. It's just that, with so much dividing us, I see virtual spaces
as a place where we can all come together in spite of it all. You know?


Well, on that hot button, I'm logging off for a brief night's sleep
and a (hopefully) painless flight back to SF tomorrow. Keep the
questions and comments coming, and I'll be back asap. 

And thanks again for having me. This is fun.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #61 of 77: ZeppoCat (zeppocat2001) Mon 26 Nov 01 11:14
    
I'm so glad this discussion was extended. I meant to post my question
before I went away for Thanksgiving, and things got hectic and I
forgot. So I'm happy to still be able to participate.

My question, somewhat related to the questions Nancy posted, concerns
a particular type of community, and that is learning communities. Do
you have any experience with virtual university or distance learning
enterprises? I believe virtual community could potentially play a very
big role in these enterprises, but I'm uncertain as to how to encourage
them, beyond having instructors set up course-related topics in the
async bulletin-board pages of their web sites. I'm wondering if a
broader role for community in these institutions couldn't go a long way
toward contributing toward their success. Where I work, we've got a
task force set up to try and push the university's Distance Education
Network into the 21st century (it's still using the Instructional
Television model). I'm pushing for inclusion of broader
community-building features and looking for support for this. Can
virtual learning communities flourish beyond the course-related topics
on the bulletin board, and is it worth it for administrators to set up
and maintain such features? Do they contribute anything to
participants? and how to design them so they realize any potential they
might have?

Thanks again for your participation in this conference, Derek.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #62 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 26 Nov 01 11:22
    
This is an aside, because I thought about that whiteness comment, too.

Though ethnicity is not just about color, and <wellelp> may be thinking
more about a more limited cultural perspective. A decade ago, when
access to the WELL was primarily by modem, I was among a minority of
community members logging in from outside the Bay Area. Costly toll
fees were a barrier to entry, and I remember feeling frustrated at the
limitation, and the occasional feeling that I was a visitor to the
community, not a member.

Now the WELL is accessible over the Internet, and subscription is an
inexpensive flat rate, so the barriers to entry are much lower and the
cultures represented are more diverse. We have various ethnic groups
represented here, and I think the composition of the community is as
broad as any online.

But another point about the WELL is that it has become a community of
communities, and the flavor of your participation depends quite a bit
where among the many conferences you hang out. Change your conference
list and your experience of the WELL changes.

Having got into the realm of access and diversity, Derek, I'm wondering
if you've given much thought to the movements around community networks
and universal access?  As a designer, do you give much thought to
designing for users with limitations based on a lack of eductation,
inexperience with the Internet, or accessibility issues (i.e. visual or
cognitive disabilities)? 
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #63 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 26 Nov 01 11:22
    
(zeppocat's comment slipped in while I was writing mine...)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #64 of 77: Eleanor Parker (wellelp) Mon 26 Nov 01 11:37
    
>>We have various ethnic groups  represented here, and I think the
composition of the community is as broad as any online.

Jon, as a newbie, I expected to see more ethnic and cultural diversity
than I've experienced so far on the Well.  It may turnout that the 
Web is overwhelmingly white and middle class, and the problem lies
there rather than with the Well specificly.

I was going to ask Derek a follow-up question, but on reflection
decided not to because it is clearly not the intent of Inkvue to grill
the authors kind enough to participate, and Derek has been extremely
forthright in all of his other answers.  Racism and diversity are
sensitive topics in any venue.

So I'll ask a different, though related follow up question:  How can a
virtual community reach out to recruit from other groups not currently
well-represented in either the VC itself or the online world in
general?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #65 of 77: Daniel (dfowlkes) Mon 26 Nov 01 12:47
    <scribbled by dfowlkes Tue 3 Jul 12 10:14>
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #66 of 77: Nancy White (choco) Mon 26 Nov 01 13:16
    
(Eleanor, that might be an interesting conversation to continue in the
<VC.> conference!)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #67 of 77: Nancy White (choco) Mon 26 Nov 01 13:17
    
(And damned fine questions! I'm enjoying this!)
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #68 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 26 Nov 01 20:11
    
> I expected to see more ethnic and cultural diversity
> than I've experienced so far on the Well.  
.
.
.
> I was going to ask Derek a follow-up question, but on reflection
> decided not to because it is clearly not the intent of Inkvue to grill
> the authors kind enough to participate

I guess Derek's point was that it's hard to get a sense of the ethnic
composition of a virtual community... and my question was whether your
impression of the WELL's lack of diversity was more a cultural issue. As
for the follow-up question, ask away. I don't think Derek's averse to
tough questions, and we certainly don't discourage pointed discussion.

And I do think the question of barriers, who's included and excluded, is
important to ask when you're discussing community, virtual or physical.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #69 of 77: Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 27 Nov 01 10:21
    
I would guess that a lot of the diversity issue boils down in many
ways to diversity and access issues that affect people offline. 

I'm thinking of this because as we're discussing Derek's book, I'm
also reading a book from a couple of years ago, Paloff and Pratt's
lovely "Building learning communities in cyberspace" and was struck
by how much of the book is spent teaching the reader about online
interactions, and how both teachers and students will be new to the
medium.

But that's far less true today than two or three years ago when the
book was written, and I don't think (Derek, please correct me if I'm
wrong) that Derek spent much time on the "what is this cyberspace stuff"
in his book--it's a given--and I think I remember several times reading
reminders that it's community--face to face, or online, people still
have similar needs and ways of relating.

Even though an awful lot of people don't have much (if any) knowledge
of online community, it is far less a mystery than it was, and more
community creators and moderators are recognizing that while it is
new and wonderful to have a new medium with which to build community,
we have extended our reach, not changed our basic humanity thereby.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #70 of 77: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Tue 27 Nov 01 12:46
    
Just thought I'd mention that there's a review of Derek's book on
slashdot.  (How's that for timing?)

http://slashdot.org/books/01/11/27/167256.shtml
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #71 of 77: Doug Hess (dougrhess) Tue 27 Nov 01 16:23
    
I'd still be interested in other ideas on how to keep an online
community from getting trampled by cranks. Moderators? Complaint
buttons by other members? Ignore them? Seems many a good thread on some
forums gets ruined by mal-intentioned posters...
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #72 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Tue 27 Nov 01 16:31
    
Doug --

In a way, that's what my entire book is about. "How to keep an online
community from getting trampled by cranks" was just less catchy than
"The art of connecting real people in virtual places."

For a quick review, here are a few techniques for positive posting:

-- Use a personal voice in your content. People are more likely to
attack a thing than a person.

-- Provide ample examples of the kind of participation you're looking
for from your users. Examples work better than rules.

-- Enforce the rules as even-handedly as possible.

-- Embrace user-controlled moderation techniques where appropriate
(like Slashdot's moderation system, discussed in Chapter 6:
www.designforcommunity.com/display.cgi/20011021222)

-- Carefully set, and constantly monitor, your barrier to entry. 

-- Content, content, content. Use content as example material,
conversation starters, and to create commonality and focus. And make
sure that content is tightly interlinked with the conversation tools.

There's lots more, but that's a start....
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #73 of 77: Nancy White (choco) Fri 30 Nov 01 16:45
    
Derek, what is the most unsual design/user interface you've ever seen
for an online community?
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #74 of 77: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 1 Dec 01 20:45
    
Thanks, Derek, for sharing your thoughts with us! For the rest of
you: there's more discussion of Derek's book at
http://www.designforcommunity.com.
  
inkwell.vue.132 : Derek Powazek: Design for Community
permalink #75 of 77: Derek M. Powazek (dmpowazek) Sun 2 Dec 01 17:31
    
Nancy --

As interfaces go, most sites that self-identify as communities go for
the straight-up bulletin board approach. Welcome page. Select a
section. Select a thread. Drill drill drill. It's understandable, sure,
but boring.

I think, depending on your site's goals and the depth of your
community functionality, there are many opportunities to play with the
interface. For example, at Kvetch! (www.kvetch.com), the site is
structured like an old radio, complete with knobs and buttons.
Selecting a section is like dialing in a radio station. And the posts
are presented randomly - contributing to a sense of chaos and
spontaneity.

Another novel community interaction I saw once was actually a popup
advertisement. I can't remember who is was for - Levi's perhaps - but
it presented a branded theme and asked users to talk back. It was a
sponsored, temporary community interaction, and it only worked because
it was presented with such a light, playful spirit.

Then, of course, there are the visual mediums. Habbo Hotel
(www.habbo.com) springs to mind, where the community is represented
visually, with little rooms and tiny pixel people. I talked about Habbo
a lot in Chapter 12, because I think they're on the leading edge of
this kind of visual net-based community.

In the end, the interface you create for your community says something
about the kind of community you want to create. An interface that
tends to promote the content (like the way Slashdot is all about the
content on the front page, and stories are presented in descending
chronological order) creates an environment where the conversation is
really based on content and time. An interface that makes people click
through long lists of conferences, sections, and thread names with
little hand-holding (sound familiar?) says something else about the
community you want to create: it's here for the people who already know
how to get around - heavy on the social structure and community
participation. 

Interface is a huge contributor to the flavor of community you want to
create, and it's powerful because it's so subliminal and unspoken.
  

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