3-Os/Community/Successful Online Communities

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Successful Online Communities

What makes online communities work successfully

Those online communities that are driven by the needs of users succeed. There is no recipe for success in online communities. The metrics are the evidence that people on the individual scale are drawing value from the community. The metrics are not traffic, clicks, or even the amount of posts per day people are making.

Successful online communities are a very poor vehicle for immediate monetary revenue profitability. Successful user-driven online communities are a great vehicle for long term sustainable pooling and sharing of value and wealth that is *not* money. Successful online communities are a "commons" and so are best managed by applying commons-based business models.

If you build it, they will not come. But if you organically grow it based on asking people what they need, and working with them to help build that, you will succeed. This is the premise for success in the http://socialmediaclassroom.com community, and the community at http://brainstorms.rheingold.com (and The Well, which is where brainstorms came from).

You can organically build by asking people to talk with you about what they need. Then, flexibly facilitating what they are asking for. Many times, people are too busy these days to make "talking" the base activity for community. So, I ask them where they are already talking, working, sharing, etc and how you might help them leverage the work they are already doing (no matter where it is online). This is what we do in http://localfoodsystems.org community.

The metrics in networked communities are not "web property" and "role" based. They are connection and activity/action based. People are not "users, readers" etc. They are "making, sharing, using, reading, creating" etc this is what is happening on the most successful networks of people online right now. One person can potentially take on up to and including all traditional "roles" in a system, because they have access to all of the actions available in the system

So, to summarize:

  • Value in online communities is on the scale of the person and their experience within the community.
  • Online communities are really networks of people, and thinking about them through the lens of networks and complex systems will offer a way to think about their architecture, nature, and plausible outcomes of the system
  • Focus on the activity a person is doing now (even prior to their engaging your system) as the primary value in the system. Ask the people you want to use your system how you could enhance those actions they are currently doing. Each person and their actions are value to be multiplied or lost.
  • Metrics are people telling you that you are helping them or not. Supporting evidence is that people are using your systems, but that is not the main evidence. The main evidence will only be available by having open channels of communication with people using your system(s), and having them feedback to you that this is working for them.

Randy's Points

Sam has shared some excellent points here about community building! Here's my take on the issue:

Decide What is Success

  • Make sure you understand what constitutes 'success' and for whom
  • Have that "Strategic Messaging" conversation (internal to your organization) to be clear, how the community is aligned to your goals, and how you will leverage it / outputs, without alienating the participants, trampling on their values, violating ethics and boundaries.
  • Provide and empower human resources and Web 2.0 channels to communicate and report that out to specific individuals, sub-groups of the community and the larger communtiy as well using multiple frequencies (levels), formats, channels etc.

Develop meaningful metrics that measure something of value for that community.

    • Ensure that internal survey data and analytics are shared with the community, and then acted upon. Share the results of these actions with the community.
  • Make sure that your expectations are appropriate, and there's enough 'time' provided to see actual trends (vs. "I've invested in this for 4 months and nothing is happening", or "I can only see 5 people participating, when there are 50 members")

Recognize that 'facilitation' occurs on several levels

    • Top Level: Strategic Facilitator -- facilitating connections and leveraging opportunities (internally / externally); someone who understands the strategy of the community (and the sponsoring organization(s)) - and who is able and willing to facilitate connections and opportunities and find resources to help the project achieve its goals and objectives.
    • Operations-Level: Gardener / Neighbour --welcoming people, helping them out
  • Communicate success to the Community, and share ideas about how they can use the information in their communities and networks.

Openness and Transparency Works Best

  • The more open and transparent you can be, the better.
  • The more that you can identify clear values for the community and its members, the better.
  • Recognize that "community" has different meanings / definitions: in my view, it exists BOTH on- and off-line, even if it is an online community!
    • Further: in WikiEducator for example, there are many people who do not actively participate in the discussion group (http://groups.google.ca/group/wikieducator), yet they are active in other ways and contribute greatly to the success of the project. They might 'open a door' to a new relationship with a funder - in a way that tremendously benefits the community; or they might make an anonymous donation; or they might source a new set of OERs to be used in a future project. The point is that they contribute in a meaningful way, just as the person who writes directly on the community Google group, or the educator who runs classes on the wiki. All are members of the community -- and would identify themselves that way.
    • Recognize that the community is "self-organizing" - even if the 'structure' is relatively closed. (This means that even if people are restricted by what they can and cannot do "in" the community, they will do it in other ways, and in other forms (i.e., blogs, websites, quality of contributions, in emails, face-to-face conversations, etc.)

Support and Engage Community Members

  • Seek ways to support and engage people and their areas of interest / projects.
  • Communicate success, reach out to new people within the community and advocate for resources (internally / externally) and to help out with member projects.
  • Distribute ownership in the community, provide opportunities for recognition and profile, and celebrate often (when mistakes are made, share these too, as they are an important part of community-building and transparency
    • Folks have different roles at different times and on different projects -- in addition to their organizational roles
    • Recognize that people resist being change, not necessarily the change itself.

Learning, Recognition and Certification

  • The community is an important source of learning and recognition. Find ways to support folks that way.
  • Also, there are specific bodies of knowledge that can be leveraged to become 'curriculum'. Consider involving folks in the community in developing these
  • Provide free or low-cost training opportunities to develop skills and add value to the community.
    • WikiEducator's Learning4Content elearning/training model is a great example of giving new and advanced community users a chance to learn new skills, upgrade existing ones and obtain community certification and recognition for their efforts.
    • In return, these individuals contribute one (1) lesson (OER) back to the Community and get a sense of the wiki experience(i.e., learn by doing) and are likely to continue using it (over time) for themselves, and their institutions and organizations.
    • WikiEducator benefits from the contribution of OER content, a growing community and increased traffic and time spent on the WikiEducator site.
  • Consider a valuable and recognized certification path - Check out WikiEducator's Skills Development and Apprenticeship Certification Framework

The Community and Ecosystem are Intertwined

  • Seek opportunities to address strategic gaps in the ecosystem, and communicate progress to the community.
    • WikiEducator has done a great job of this (i.e., an interoperability project between Connexions and WikiEducator (Hewlett Funding); Rich Text Editing capability (NZ Ministry of Education); wiki skills development (Learning4Content project); Wiki to PDF conversion capability.
    • Wikipedia's advances in Creative Commons licenses - content is now CC-BY-SA - so that content can be used my many projects
  • * Seek opportunities to build internal (project) capacity
  • Find ways to support / add value to the community (i.e., financial, resources, career, personal, etc.) while achieving larger goals

Monetization Options: Curriculum/Materials Development, Publishing and Certification

I agree with Sam that it's hard to monetize communities -- however, that's not the same thing as monetizing the productive output of the community. For example, a community may produce a curriculum, learning material or video -- which itself can be used, monetized, repurposed (i.e, another format, translated, contextualized and adapted to a specific culture, grade level, etc.), monetized, etc.

  • A good example, is WikiEducator's Skills Development Framework and Apprenticeship Certification
    • This is a very cost-effective and scalable delivery model, whereby the content could be available for free, but mentoring / coaching / instruction could be available at a fee, as could the actual certification. There could also be on-demand publishing options for companion texts.
    • For example, say there was a Body of Knowledge in Education Project Management.
      • A community could be built around the body of knowledge, with the purpose of developing a scalable training / elearning model to reach greater numbers of the profession.
      • An association or 3rd party could charge a fee to take preparatory courses, and there could be a fee to receive certification -- perhaps as a means of professionalizing the profession / members, and increasing the (international / national / sectoral) credibility of the "Association".
      • Think about the Project Management profession for example, and it's Project Management Professional (PMP) designations. See: http://www.pmi.org

Interesting Communities

Communities that I have helped build (Randy)


Community Media Community of Practice

LearnShare HIV AIDS (for Community Media & Health Professionals