Wednesday, December 07, 2005

How to have a good community

I have been thinking a lot recently about what it takes to have a good community, and posts by Kevin Holland and others where my take-away was that most of what makes it good is the feeling of community (I don't have a ready source, so take that meditation with a salt pill).

However, after hearing my spousal unit rave about the DC Web Women listserv, I went and signed up so see what's going on over there. (I know, I'm not a woman and it was especially disconcerting to see the "you've been signed up to the DC Web Women" email next to the one from Men's Health hawking their "Action Hero Workout. Tired of being a mere mortal?" it says. "So what, I hang out with chicks, you gotta problem with that? Sucka."

Anyway, a glance at their website will let you know exactly what they are. I have to think that this kind of clarity is key to the founding of a great community. There's no question about what it is or how to proceed. Their operations seem to be fairly transparent and inviting. I keep thinking about the interplay between design, organization, and communities, but that's about a book unto itself. In the meantime, kudos to the group for putting this community together.

One of the things they're discussing today is Bulletin Boards v. Listservs for connecting people. A list put together by a contributor named Siobhan named some pros and cons of Bulletin Boards.
Pros
  • encourages lurking
  • easier to archive/follow specific threads
  • harder to forward posts off group
  • easier to moderate/control content
  • easier to track individual users contributions (our old list had a requirement that all users remain active and post at least once per quarter - easeier to track with a bulletin board)
  • people love being able to add signatures, photos, links, etc
Cons
  • seems less friendly/less intimate
  • easier for members to ignore threads that don't interest them (so subject lines/switching threads that go off topic is important)
  • much harder for those on dialup to manage
  • users spend more time on the bulletin board than on the list - so
  • harder to jump in and out or hit a quick reply to a specific topic
Then, a conclusion by a contributor named Susan says
I think the real question is how best to facilitate good discussion and interaction within virtual groups - understanding that some people will like the listserv approach better, while others will prefer an online discussion forum.

The best way to approach this is to provide a solution that offers the following options:
  • A web discussion forum, where users can view threaded discussions and search them if they like.
  • The option to receive an email version of each post, a daily digest, or none at all (if they prefer to go to the site).
This way, it acts like a listserv or a discussion forum, or both depending on how the user wants it.
Good thoughts. Thanks DCWW!

UPDATE: So, I found out from the spousal unit that I'm not allowed to be on the listserv at all, so I'm getting you all clandestine information. Hope you enjoy it. (Do you hear me whispering? I am.)