Archive for communities

What do we do online?

timsamoffHarvard Business School professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski has spent years studying users of online communities and what needs these networks fulfil. His biggest surprise: people love looking at pictures and spend 70% of time viewing photos or other people’s profiles.  He finds that online social communities are also most effective when they are addressing failures in offline networks.  His example is the failure to  identify a person to help with a start up through friends and even friends of friends. When this strategy fails – LinkedIn fills the gap. There are gender differences, and  Pikorski finds that the biggest users are men looking at women they don’t know followed by men looking at women they do know. Again there is a fragility in the offline networks.

These findings may indicate that serious thought be given to what is missing in offline networks which may be driving the online ones.  What do you think? Does this research suggest that if we explore specific offline communities,  we may be able to identify gaps and translate them into popular services or applications in our social networking sites?

Why do we care about engaging online?

Nancy White thinks that engagement in any community is on a spectrum from active participation in a group to internal reflection in a subtle and often invisible way. It can be with people or with content and can have positive or negative nuances. We should care about engaging because that is how most of us learn either online or offline, so the next question is how can we encourage engagement online?

We can’t jettison our offline manners in an online environment. Many of these mores  still apply, such as addressing people by name, acknowledging or reciprocating contributions, asking good questions, rephrasing something that lacks clarity, varying media,  interspersing content and activities, and  modeling a good example of engagement.

There is nothing that can be assumed about other people in an online group. We have no non verbal cues to measure the progress of our interactions so silence may mean shyness, anger or a broken microphone. Each option requires a different strategy so the process of checking in becomes more frequent, particularly at the beginning of an online session. There are those people who are quicker online and their experiences are different from those members who participate less regularly and may feel a sense of being overwhelmed and abandoned by the moderator and rest of the group. If this persists, there may be a need to encourage fast posters to slow down and the late adopters to log on more often, otherwise the group may fracture.

I really like this article because it gives practical information about how to think about an online community, and implies that  individuals or subgroups can fragment the experience, and reminds us that community is not a holistic entity.  If there is a moderator, they require sophisticated communication skills to negotiate between the various ‘communities of interest’ within the group to ensure that each member learns something of value to them. Have you come across groups who successfully embrace early and late adopters? What do they do that is different from other groups that you have registered with?

Into the deep end

Diman and Kat's dive by OksidorPool is a collaborative space created by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) where people can share, co-create, and collaborate.  You can create a profile, upload/download files, remix and reuse the ABC archive, collaborate with Radio National producter,  and search for resources. Recently an interesting document has been released called Pool user research which comes out of a consultation process and workshop. Some thoughts:-

  • the structure of the report is excellent and so I follow the headings of their sections in this post.
  • Pool is..what Pool is from the perspective of its users and stakeholders – there is still a conflation of users and stakeholders which I question because it seems to me that they are separate groups, and  it is a bit like  putting together shareholders (stakeholders) and customers (users) in a bank setting.
  • Pool users want to… (the motivations and goals of Pool’s community) –  and this is interesting – produce something, gather interesting stuff, belong to a media community, and be part of the ABC. It seems that here they have clearly identified what it is that users are there for and what they are doing when they are there.  Something worth noting in this section is that 38%  used it as a place to display work, 16% said they wanted to give their work a chance of being used by the ABC, 12% wanted to be recognised by the ABC, other came in on 10%, 8% to find inspiration, 6% to feel part of a community, and to find other artists to collaborate with and 4% to get recognition from other users.   The commentary states that users feel that the community is important as it motivates and attracts people who feel the presence of other like-minded people in Pool.  The stats though say that community is close to the bottom of the reasons why people use Pool.  Two things that stand out are the attraction of having a space to display work, and the drawing power of a reputable brand such as the ABC.
  • Pool should…resolve existing issues that current users have, address usability issues, communicate a purpose, and retain the level of engagement of staff, and warmth and support of Pool community managers.  Those users interviewed often commented that the responsiveness and helpfulness shown by Pool community managers contributed to a warm and welcoming ‘personality’ of Pool, and that they were willing to forgive any technical shortcomings because of this. Significantly the commitment factor of users is tied to the people  and processes that make them feel welcome.

This paper is really useful because it discusses issues that probably arise in every online community – what people come for, what they do once they are there,   and whether they are comfortable as a member of the Pool community, in particular,  the nature of the help and encouragement to continue.

I am interested in any comments about what strikes you about a friendly online community. What are the things that make you feel welcome or not? Does having the presence of someone in the background really count? Or are guides and how-tos just as satisfactory?

The importance of passion

Pride by specialkrb

Pride by specialkrb

I am  moved by Chris Brogan’s post on online communities. It  resonated for me when he speaks about ‘the people who live for community, the ones who know that the human-shaped web is much more powerful in the longer run than any technology out there today’.  He says that community is about making friends, building relationships and looking forward to what can be done together. It is at the ‘core’ of his belief system, and in his ‘blood’.  And that these feelings cannot be reproduced by corporations or people who want to make profits.

I can think of someone who demonstrates Chris’ point. Interestingly enough she expresses this passion in online and offline environments.  She comments on people’s posts, and shares her knowledge in blogs but also works as a face to face volunteer supporting a well known medical NGO.

Obviously everyone is not motivated by genuine commitment or such full-on energy. Can you think of anyone in one of your online communities who does and what  are the qualities that stand out for you? Are they active offline too or perhaps there isn’t a crossover at all….?