Monday, June 30, 2008

Invigorating Online Communities

I was in the audience for this presentation at the nGenera Enterprise 2.0 Conference. The panel consisted of:
The panel started (appropriately enough) on how to start an online community.  There was a general consensus that you need to start around a topic or an idea. They want to share ideas and relationships with people who have similar thoughts. One panelists thought is was good to plant contributors in the communities to sustain the flow of information and conversation, especially in the early days.

Social communities can provide a lens of information. For example Facebook is way to keep track of loose ties, even though there is a lot of noise.  Important topics will get discussed by multiple people in multiple ways.  (My personal experience was that I initial ignored the Clay Shirky presentation on cognitive surplus at the Web 2.0 Conference. But enough of the people in my online communities kept highlighting the presentation to make me realize I needed to watch it.)

One panelist believes that online communities that grow rapidly are likely to have a rapid demise. All of the panelists thought of their sites as knowledge platform focused on sharing knowledge with the social aspect as a by-product. This is a sharp distinction from Facebook that is focused on social aspect with the sharing of knowledge being merely a by-product (and a very small by-product).  It takes a while to accumulate the content in a community to keep people coming back.  (I see that in any knowledge management project. The blank page is a deterrent to contribution.) As more knowledge accumulates in the system, the more useful the system becomes.

The general consensus was that general social sites are hard to keep sustained.  You need to associate the community with a business purpose and allow the sharing of substantive content.

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