Posted by: rolfsky | July 13, 2007

10 tips for online community developers

As I mentioned before, I’m working on a project to explore and define the concept of Community 2.0. Yesterday I sat down with a group of people in a conference room adorned with brass bugles and asked them to share an instance where they felt they were part of a community. As I listened intently to their varied stories I began to notice how many of the stories were alike while all being nuanced in their own way. A realization that particularly struck me was the need for a common goal or reason for existence.

There is a danger in working on a Community 2.0 project while in a company so driven towards products and shipping new features out the door. I sense an unfaltering belief that all problems can be solved with a new feature and you can build a community as easily as releasing some new code. If you build it, they will come.

Perhaps our late 20th century focus on mechanization has brought about this myth that you can “build” community. This is as false as believing that you can build anything else organic such as corn, soy, oats or cattle. Any good farmer will tell you that you can only do your best, then hope for rain. Similarly, you can “build” the best community money can afford but it will ultimately fail if it doesn’t address the basic needs of who are are trying to attract.

The framers of our Bill of rights understood that to build a lasting union, someone needs to lay out what you can and can’t do in no uncertain terms.

Since everybody loves lists, here’s a few items that will help you attract and keep your community of choice:

  1. investigate whether there is a need or desire for the community you hope to foster
  2. focus on enabling and empowering your members
  3. allow members to create something lasting and personal
  4. give the members power to police and control their community
  5. protect members against the tyranny of those who would seek to overly police and control the community
  6. protect members’ ability to control their own privacy
  7. never reward expected behavior with something that can be converted to value outside the community
  8. enable a dramatic range of levels of participation
  9. never assume that you know what the community is “about” better than they do
  10. provide the opportunity for members to delight each other

If you have an example of how these have or haven’t worked for you, let me know!



  1. You might find this recent article of mine interesting:

    Social networking: it’s new but it isn’t news; Here’s an idea to make it useful

  2. @Liam

    Actually, that’s a pretty fantastic article. You’re absolutely right that all the parts are there, just waiting to be put together. NNTP is a robust protocol from the “olden days” just waiting to be repurposed. I once coded a proof of concept which filtered RSS streams by converting them to email messages and passing them through the POPfile learning algorithm; I see similar possibilities here.

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