Online Communities are not Doomed to Fail

Martin Belam:

What I’ve seen again and again is that a hardcore knot of the community become hyperactive on the board, and this begins to inhibit new users from posting. A classic example, from the Points Of View boards, would be that someone would post saying they think Bruno was being a bit harsh on Strictly with his judging. A regular would immediately reply along the lines of ‘yes we’ve done this topic to death, there’s a thread from the last series here.’ It’s not a welcome. It’s an intimidating conversation killer.

If you ever start saying that to the community, they immediately accuse you of lying, and say that no they welcome people with open arms. It doesn’t matter that you can see the metrics on new registrations and new posters. It doesn’t matter that you’ve done user-testing sessions where you’ve shown people the boards and they’ve told you that they’d quite like to post but they wouldn’t because it feels unfriendly. The community can’t see it.

The headline to this article is “Why I’ve found that online communities on media sites always seem doomed to fail.”

I don’t agree with Martin’s doom & gloom about online communities. Even if they’re on sites owned and operated by large media businesses, there is hope if there is good moderation & leadership.

However, Martin is right about people in communities being an insular & minority voice, compared to the whole audience. Sometimes business-folk need to take the consensus advice with a grain of salt, and publicly admit that they’re doing so.

If it doesn’t make business sense, or design sense, or for whatever the reason is. Just be honest with people about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and don’t use weaselly biz-speak to get out of it. The community is representative of your audience, even if they aren’t always right, and they deserve a straight answer about why you’re doing whatever you’re doing that pissed them off.

Author: Jack Slater

A Philadelphian exiled to Hawaii. You can follow or contact me on Twitter where I’m @TimeDoctor, via the contact page, or via e-mail to zjs AT zacharyjackslater dot com

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