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In response to questions about how to start a new community
site, conference or set of related forums for an ongoing group, in 1994 I
made this first draft of a list of principles to consider. This list is about
attitude and approach to people rather than interface and economics.
Online Community Building Concepts
by Gail Ann Williams
Cultivate a sense of accountability and continuity so that community norms
Anonymity and being on the record both work, but don't mix very well.
(The primary risk is that you may erode the general level of trust
with feelings of betrayal if anonymity is used for spite or fraud.)
Community is place, in the messy sense that Utopia means "no place".
(For all the barn-raisings and life-enrichment you witness, inspire or
help to organize, you will also have to learn to mitigate the darker sides
of peer-pressure, petty tyranny, feuds, and the natural
inclination to haze newcomers.)
Leadership means respect for others: that's no ant farm on your desk.
Honor counterpoint as an antidote to control: dissent is both a pain
and an asset.
Choose leadership metaphors carefully.
(If you call yourself "mayor", and your users "citizens", but
don't let them vote, what kind of nation have they entered? Maybe a cafe
is a more attainable analogy.)
Value diversity: flesh out a full pantheon of personalities, skill sets, life
experiences, points of view. Value unusual ideas and people.
Magic requires human attention and heart, both limited resources. Invest
In a land made of words, local jargon distinguishes virtual place.
(Invent terms, use good coinages tossed out by others, but don't get so
in-crowdish that a visitor can't follow conversation, unless you have no
need to be able to grow or to replace membership attrition.)
Develop and collect games, traditions and rituals as they take genuine root.
The producers of community and relationships are both the product and
its consumers. Treat them as mere commodities or audience at your peril.
Expect a little cliquishness; make places for an "in-crowd" to get out
of the way of newcomers and those devoted to open association and inquiry.
Virtuality is its own reward: one gains knowlege, meaning and the
satisfaction of being known in ones community.
Model the kind of participation you want.
Find the laughter, and share the expense of it.
Collaborate in making a world where the sun rises the next morning.
(There's no reason to push for the kind of climax you'd seek in a novel
or movie which then ends. So keep that particular dramatic sense at bay.)
Inspired by John Coate's Principles of Cyberspace Innkeeping, tempered
by my years in the Innkeeper role here at The WELL beginning in 1991.
-Gail Ann Williams