A few weeks ago I had the privilege of having lunch with Colleen Young. During our conversation Colleen mentioned a website I might be interested in called FeverBee.com, a site that has an extensive collection of articles on building and sustaining an online community. When I got back to my desk I loaded up the site. Within ten seconds I was hooked; with bite-sized posts titled “Why People Aren’t Joining Your Online Community“, how could I not be? I printed off at least a dozen articles right off the bat so I could read them on the subway and take notes.
Though after 15+ years of using several different forums I have developed a sense of what works and what doesn’t, it had never been spelled out so clearly as in FeverBee’s posts. As I read over the goldmine of information I couldn’t help but reflect back over my experiences with online communities, beginning all the way back in the late 1990’s when I was a regular on a sub-forum on Bolt.com. It’s clear that there are common traits among those forums that had me hooked for months or even years.
There were two forums where I was a regular for years. Both were what I’d call common interest forums. We all came together because of something we liked (a particular artist and a lifestyle), however once I got there I found so much more than an analysis of the artist’s latest piece or a debate on the nuances of choosing this over that. Instead I found a group of like-minded people from all over the world who introduced me to new interests and shared my sense of humour. Each community grew organically and topics of discussion weren’t prescribed. On the other hand, open and off-topic discussion was rampant, with moderation happening only in severe instances. These two communities were more like high school hangouts than a place for learning and sharing. It was a great place to be if you were part of the “in” crowd, but it was very difficult to be accepted into the group.
Despite the fact that these forums were created for a particular purpose, they each developed a life of their own that had nothing to do with the original purpose because of loose leadership and moderation. In the case of the artist’s forum, he ended up dissociating himself entirely from the forum. The forum, however, lived on for several years after he left, a clear indication that the forum wasn’t serving it’s intended purpose! (As an aside, many of us regulars remain good friends nearly 10 years after we joined the forum. All was not lost on the forum with no leader)
Read part two of my reflections on forums: When Something Is Wrong with My Forum.