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inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #26 of 52: Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 21 Jul 00 08:47
    
But don't we often try to build on a specific community, and let it
variegate over time? Back when the WELL was young, there were a few
conferences, and (excepting those nice folks who kept to the Grateful
Dead areas and didn't bother the rest of us) we were relatively
homogenous. 

I'm working with a mailing list of people interested in a particular
type of music at the moment, that we're hoping to tie down to a website
and some webconferencing software so that we can provide some room for
new topics to spill over that don't necessarily escalate the traffic
on the mailing list further (more and more people are dropping off, or
reading in digest mode). So, over a relatively short period of time, I'm
hoping that there are related cultural issues that would attract people
who had no interest in the music and so on.

Does this seem like a normal pattern for most types of community, or
are there exceptions, or other patterns that I'm ignoring (beyond the
pattern which keeps things tightly on one narrow range of discussion)?
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #27 of 52: Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 21 Jul 00 11:13
    
Hey, congrats. Leafing through the most recent (August, 2000) issue of
Wired, there's a lovely rave about the book by Kevin Kelly on page 232!
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #28 of 52: Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Fri 21 Jul 00 11:46
    
Ari, the pattern you're describing sounds normal to me. The only
question is time frame of fragmentation. It's important to allow (or
even encourage) fragmentation of your community in a way that's
appropriate to the overall scale and "connectedness" of your community.
When your community is small and just starting to gell, you want to
encourage a strong sense of overall identity. If you're finding that
people are starting to break into interest-oriented subgroups on their
own, that's a good sign that it's time to provide some infrastructure
that supports more focused subgroups.

Of course, your next question will be "But how do I know when it's
'too soon' to subdivide? What are the metrics for community size and
activity?" 

I don't have any specific answers right now -- that's something I'm
currently working on. But as a rule of thumb, it's a good idea to be
user-driven in your efforts, and grow your collection of specific
gathering places (as you discussed with your mailing list, Ari) in
response to user's requests, rather than to start new topics hoping
that someone will show up.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #29 of 52: Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 21 Jul 00 12:08
    
Oh, yes, absolutely agree. I think that's the first thing they told
me as a host--don't start lots of topics or areas, keep things focused
and let them spill over. Things look so much better when there are
ten topics and three have new responses, than when there are 50 with
only three having new responses--especially if 40 of the 50 are empty.

I don't want to spend much time worrying about conferencing minutiae,
though, except that one thing that the WELL used to encourage was
frequent conference pruning. In the old days, this related directly
to disk space--there wasn't much. But disks are humongous these days,
and cheap. And text takes very little room.

But the logic behind that pruning--giving people a chance to address
things anew, giving topics a chance to start again, letting people
encounter a smaller discussion area and grow it--still seems to hold
even if we don't follow it much here on the WELL. Is =anyone= paying
attention to this aspect of "community as gardening?" Does it really
matter these days of big disks, cable modems, and minute attention
spans?
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #30 of 52: Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Sun 23 Jul 00 14:40
    
>> Is =anyone= paying attention to this aspect of "community 
>> as gardening?" Does it really matter these days of big disks, 
>> cable modems, and minute attention spans?

Great question. I think that the overall notion of "community as
gardening" has only gotton stronger, and lots of Web communities engage
in pruning and weeding of some sort. However, this gardening activity
is now driven by different motivations; rather than disk space
limitations (which of course some people still face), many community
managers want to keep clutter to a minimum, and showcase the liveliest,
most valuable or most timely discussions. 

So if you look around the Web, you'll see a growing number of
automated, member-driven "voting" systems that are designed to
highlight the highest-quality conversations or comments -- often
alongside staff-driven selections. For example, the Motley Fool
featured the staff-selected "Post of the Day," along with a top-ten
list of the "best" posts, as voted on by all members. 

So people are still weeding and pruning -- but there's much less
motivation to take older discussion offline, and more emphasis on
automated methods to showcase the best stuff.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #31 of 52: Nancy White (choco) Sun 23 Jul 00 15:37
    
What about archives and community history? Should pruned and archived
materials be 'stored' away? How does this play into the concept of
YOYOW and ownership of what is essentially member generated content?
How do you balance clutter with respecting member contributions over
time?
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #32 of 52: Ari Davidow (ari) Mon 24 Jul 00 12:02
    
Yeah, Nancy brings up a good point, and one that I think <castle>
raised earlier--without history, and without access to history, 
you don't have a community. 

So how do people keep the past accessible, and keep current posts
manageable.

Is there a better way than simply putting the old stuff in an "archives"
area with whatever haste seems appropriate, as we do here on the WELL?
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #33 of 52: Delyn Simons (delyn) Mon 24 Jul 00 15:09
    
i don't mean to derail the evolving conversation about archiving and
keeping great posts accessible (in which i am keenly interested),
but...

back quickly to the community aggregator concept - except for the high
traffic, non-topic specific examples you mentioned (all of which i
agree with), would anyone here ever dis-recommend a topic-specific site
to launch with clubs straight out of the chute, bypassing public
community apps?

i can't think of a single instance where this would be a good idea -
seems like it would turn into a bunch of inactive clubs b/c there's no
precedent for interaction. but i'm trying to punch holes in my
instincts to see if i'm just being biased.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #34 of 52: Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Mon 24 Jul 00 16:29
    
Great question, <delyn>! One exception might be a topic-specific site
that wanted to attract existing offline groups, and offer them an
online "home." In that case, there'd be a good reason to provide
something like an online "clubhouse."  

The downside would be that these different groups would have less
incentive to mix -- but that could be somewhat alliviated by creating
public spaces and events, and facilitating cross-promotion and linking
between clubs.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #35 of 52: Delyn Simons (delyn) Mon 24 Jul 00 16:46
    
Re: #30 about automated methods of weeding & pruning:

having an automated way to bring up most active topics or voting by
current members is a great way to promote areas in community.

but automated pruning and weeding can have drawbacks. i've seen bad
examples of message boards where automated autoarchiving a topic when
it gets to XX # of posts can interrupt a sensitive discussion and upset
users. badly implemented profanity filters can proactively prune, but
can also incorrectly block a user from posting an acceptable word.

i like the way at Motley Fool users can report abuse of the boards -
and let a human moderator judge whether or not the Response or User
needs to be weeded out.

I think automated tools or community feedback tools that help human
moderators do their job better is the best way. some sites seem to want
to replace hosts with automation and i think the interaction suffers.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #36 of 52: Delyn Simons (delyn) Mon 24 Jul 00 16:49
    
<snip>One exception might be a topic-specific site
that wanted to attract existing offline groups, and offer them an
online "home." In that case, there'd be a good reason to provide
something like an online "clubhouse." </snip>

right. i hadn't thought of already established offline groups coming
online. i can see how that might work.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #37 of 52: Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Mon 24 Jul 00 19:19
    
In regards to archiving: as a community builder, there's no single
right way to approach this. It really depends on what people are
discussing, what form these discussions take, and what value "older"
discussions have to the community members. For example, discussions
that focus on "ephemeral" topics like hot stock tips or casual chat
wouldn't make much sense to archive. On the other hand, discussions
that delve into deeper philosophical issues, or offer experienced
advice on child-rearing will tend to be of interest for longer periods
of time.

Some communities have message boards that function more like chat
(e.g. iVillage, eBay), and don't keep a lot of archives. This works
fine for social, everyday conversations -- but it causes big problems
for tech support boards (and eBay has updated their boards to address
this particular issue). 

By contrast, "knowledge-sharing" communities like Experts Exchange or
Epinions tend to keep archives online and searchable, especially when
the subjects being discussed don't go out of date quickly. But making
this type of setup really useful often requires robust infrastructure
and considerable management overhead (to do the "harvesting" and
"gardening").

In a community like the WELL, "deep archives" can have a lot of value
and interest for the community members. But should every single
discussion be accessible? What criteria do you use to select which to
make accessible, and which to take offline? I think the answers to
these questions really depend on the individual community. 

What do you folks think about this? What's your preferred "archiving
strategy?" I'd love to hear stories about particular communities, and
how they handled (or mid-handled) this.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #38 of 52: Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 25 Jul 00 08:27
    
In the "mis-handled" category, I discovered a few years ago that the first
set of archives from one of the WELL conferences I hosted had all be
overwritten. That is, what had been topic 1, now contained the text from a
later topic, and so on. Fortunately, not too much was lost in the migration
from PC floppy to Mac floppy to removable storage to CD ROM, but
frustrating, nonetheless.

I'm also wondering if you've (or anyone else has) encountered some of the
wandering communities--people who started on one system, then migrated to
another, and now, perhaps are in their 3rd or 4th iteration. Years ago, for
instance, I worked with a group known as EcuNet who had started on one
commercial conferencing system, migrated to a second, and last I ran into
them had evolved to a mailing list. Speak of archiving issues! Now, of
course, the web provides a new interface to e-mail list archives, so
perhaps the circle will finally be closed.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #39 of 52: Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Tue 25 Jul 00 16:20
    
Ari, you're bringing up a really interesting -- and increasingly
common -- phenomenon; I call these people "the wandering tribes of
Cyberspace" ;-) I've seen a lot of groups whose loyalty is to the
people in the group, rather than to any particular "host" system -- and
these groups will migrate from system to system, in search of the most
hospitable environment in which to conduct their activities. (I talk
more about this phenomenon in Chapter 9 of my book)

You'll especially see this behavior in gaming communities, where
"clans" and "guilds" that form in one game will develop an independant
identity, and then decide to "jump ship" and devote the majority of
their playtime to another game. For example, many of the early guilds
in Ultima Online (a massively multiplayer role-playing game) had
originally formed in Diablo or Meridian 59 -- and similarly, some of
these guilds migrated to Everquest or Asheron's Call when those games
came out. I even interviewed groups who were playing Ultima actively,
but had sent out "forward scouts" to these other games, in order to
assess the friendliness and stability of the environment.

I've also met people who banded together on America Online, and then
decided to move their chat group to iVillage or Talk City when they
were sick of AOL, and ready for a more direct Internet experience.

For the community-builder, this means that you need to pay attention
to the desires and needs of emergent groups, because they can and will
leave your service en-mass. It also means that, whenever possible, it's
a good idea to put features into place (like ever-evolving member
profiles and cumulative incentive systems) that reward loyalty, and
raise the switching costs for leaving your service. And finally, it's a
good idea to court group leaders, and do what you can to understand
their needs -- because these people can have high leverage when it
comes to influencing churn.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #40 of 52: Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 26 Jul 00 10:27
    
Good point about emergent groups and just paying attention. You devote
a fair amount of time to that in the leadership section, but then return
to it in the last chapter when talking about subgroups. Here on the WELL,
of course, "the River," and a lack of ability to work with (hell, forget
working, a lack of connection) with a certain former shoe manufacturer
come to mind.

I hadn't even thought of wandering tribes of gamesters until you brought
it up in the book.

There's a different type of integration that doesn't get discussed much
in the book, and might be worth bringing up just because it's on the 
edge of the book's scope. That is the issue of how virtual community
fits in with face-to-face community. You do talk about special face-to
face events as one of many types of periodic, or special events, but
one of the questions that I think is going to matter a lot is how both
fit together. For instance, going to City Hall to complain, or to deal
with something can be a real pain. But what happens--I think mostly in
a positive sense--when City Hall online becomes easier to deal with. 
Especially when you can see other people with similar questions or 
concerns in a discussion forum, or asking for help on similar subjects?

What happens to community outreach for a grassroots organization when
there's a place where, not only does everyone know your name, but they're
there 24 hours a day from anywhere--and it only costs you a local phone
call to get internet dialtone to participate?
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #41 of 52: Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Thu 27 Jul 00 09:24
    
>> the issue of how virtual community fits in with face-to-face
community. 

As I mention in the Epilogue (www.naima.com/community/epilogue), I
believe that the notion of an "online community" will disappear over
the next few years, as the boundary between physical and virtual
communities continues to blur. This is one of the most important issues
for any community-builder to pay attention to -- and I work with all
of my clients to look for ways to connect F2F and online activities. 

However, it's also important to recognize the barriers that are
slowing this progressions down -- particularly in the civic realm. By
far the biggest hurdle is creating a secure, un-spoof-able online
identity for each citizen. This turns out to be *very* difficult to do,
and is still years away. Until we collectively solve this problem,
there won't be online voting -- and even <ari>'s example of complaining
to City Hall doesn't work until online identity is more secure.

That said - everywhere I look, I see examples of the cross-over
between the physical and the virtual. More and more people are becoming
accustomed to communicating online, and they see the virtual realm not
as some myterious "other place," but as an extension of their everyday
lives. So when secure identity *does* come about, I think much of the
populace will be culturally ready to embrace the efficiencies and
connectedness that are offered by online communications.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #42 of 52: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 27 Jul 00 09:36
    

Amy Jo, I have been reading this conversation with great pleasure, and
wishing I had time to sit down and go back through the book for more
specific questions and remarks.

I think you have created a solid useful introduction, and that it is
understandable both to those who have experienced the other-worldliness
possible in collaborative cyberspace, and those who simply see these new
channels of communications as other ways to work and play.  It's important
that as a guide your book never enforced a style or philosophy or culture,
but had a great interest in how specific communities invariably do.

It's not always easy to bridge the perceptual gaps, and to remmber that
this is all both special and mundane, magical and matter of fact, and not
just for different people, but even for individuals who participate in a
variety of activities and relationships in online groups.

I'm betting it will be in use as a text book in a lot of courses.  Am I
right about that?
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #43 of 52: Ari Davidow (ari) Thu 27 Jul 00 11:59
    
It's an incredibly lucid, thorough, engaging presentation of the 
subject. Except for the fact that students will want to read it,
and will enjoy doing so, it's otherwise qualified as a textbook
in every way :-).
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #44 of 52: Ari Davidow (ari) Thu 27 Jul 00 12:00
    
I'm actually glad that we're touching on questions of "what's next,"
too. As the formal interview period comes to a close I want to make
sure that I ask the question I've been dying to ask for the last 
couple of weeks--what's next? What's next for you, and what do you
see coming next (besides the acceptance of online community as just
another facet of "community") to virtual community?
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #45 of 52: Ron Hogan (grifter) Thu 27 Jul 00 15:18
    

Neil Bibbins writes:

"I've just ordered your book and look forward to its arrival since Community
Building is an arcane science largely transmitted informally through online
discussions,  etc.  One question that I have for you is what--if anything--
you recommend people turn to for reference when it comes to writing Terms
and Conditions or AUP's?  I believe these documente to be the constitutions
for online communities,  but they need also be written with a safe eye
towards current law and "netiquette." Creating these guidelines from the
ground up can be daunting;  any suggestions to complement what you've
included in your book?"
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #46 of 52: Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Thu 27 Jul 00 16:27
    
Absolutely: check out the Resources section of my book's companion web
site:  http://www.naima.com/community (click on "Guidelines and
Policies")

There you'll find links to the Terms and Conditions docs of many
prominant Web communities. There's nothing better than reading these
docs to give you a starting point for crafting your own. 

Beyond that, I don't know of any place that clearly explains the
ins-and-outs of crafting these docs. Chapter 6 of my book offers an
introductory overview -- along with some useful URLs -- but of
necessity leaves much out. Avd it's already somewhat out of date. 

Does anyone know of any other good online resources for creating basic
community docs? 
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #47 of 52: Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Fri 28 Jul 00 05:47
    
And to respond to previous posts: you're right, <gail> -- judging from
the email I'm getting, educators from a variety of disciplines
(b-school, communications, computer science, library science) are
planning to use my book as a textbook in their classes. I definately
had this in mind when I wrote the book -- and in fact, I "road-tested"
the material by teaching a graduate-level computer science class (see
www.naima.com/CS377B), which really helped me refine the material and
structure the order of the chapters.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #48 of 52: Amy Jo Kim (amyjo) Fri 28 Jul 00 06:08
    
As for what's next -- I'm currently working on developing higher-level
planning tools for my clients, based around the concept of "adaptive
digital ecosystems." I'm finding that this concept is extremely useful
for pulling together the ideas in my book into a time-based and
*actionable* model that really helps people understand the basic stages
of growing a community.

Most of my work these days involves creating multi-phase rollout plans
for startups who see "community" as an integral part of their Web
business -- but there's often a disconnect between vision and
execution. Many of my clients have a strong vision for how they see
their community functioning -- but they don't understand how to get
there, realistically. Again and again, I see people implementing too
much complexity and infrastructure at launch, rather than starting
small and focused and flexible (as I recommend throughout my book), and
developing their offering over time, in close partnership with their
audience. 

That's where the "ecosystem" model comes in. I've been finding that if
I explain this "slow-growth" phase within the context of developing a
sustainable ecosystem and robust foodchain, people "get it" more
readily. And even more importantly, they're able to explain it
internally to their management team, and then create a Web-friendly
strategy around the concept.

I'm *very* excited about the utility of this model -- and I'm planning
to publish an article sometime soon that lays out the basics. I'll
keep y'all posted, via updates on my web site, www.naima.com.  
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #49 of 52: Ari Davidow (ari) Fri 28 Jul 00 11:32
    
I can't agree more--which is probably one reason that I enjoyed
the book so much. Start small. Know how you're going to grow, but
start small.
  
inkwell.vue.80 : Amy Jo Kim - Community Building on the Web
permalink #50 of 52: Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 28 Jul 00 13:48
    

I would like to jump in for just a second and thank <ari> and <amyjo> for
such a fascinating discussion.  I am amazed that it's been two weeks
already.  You are welcome to continue, of course, I just wanted to say
Thank You!
  

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