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Perils and Pitfalls of Online Community Management

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I came across an interesting post on Quora today, about the lifecycle of online communities. I am curious to know your thoughts and how what she says relates to our community. Are we perpetually locked into a stage somewhere between 1 and 2, without being adversely affected by most of the negative effects listed?

Interesting, but I'm not sure that the characterizations there all really apply here. (I only skimmed it quickly.)

Paul Keith:
IMO part of what makes DC work is that I haven't seen any stage 2.

DC kind of represents many of the software hosted on it.

There's a stage 1 and a stage 4 but with no stage 2 and with mouser being the one true stage 3, the only stage 5 problem is the forum model itself and there's little growth for elitism as even long time members or groups get very little say over the topics themselves and most member priorities lean toward software.

Of course there's one key differential though in that DC is more of a niche community and not an ever expounding community like Quora. One does not fear downsizing while the other does. In many ways it's just a matter of scale when it comes to DC vis-a-vis Quora even though taken as a whole small scale communities aren't really exempt from those problems.

Doco is developer+users community. Browse through all the topics with more than 10 replies, you'll find discussions of productivity softwares, buying suggestions, personal growth issues, life and etc. Doco is niche community and programs like coding snack, NANY keeps developers and users in loop of development and creativity. Never noticed any elite-signals here in any threads. Community is about what members can do with it, not what community fails to do for them. Trying to be everything to everyone is surefire way of killing community. It's not easy to grow community, sometimes it naturally grows or turns into dust, be it for any reason.

I think Ms. Freedman's lifecycle is just one of the many an online community can experience. As such, her article is valuable as a starting point for discussion and debate. But by the same token, I don't think the progression she describes is all that universal or inevitable.

Note: I found it interesting that one of the first comments up on Quora (by Liz Pullen) also voiced an objection to the sense of  "inevitability" the article seemed to present regarding the phases in the lifecycle:
While I recognize all of these phases in online communities I have participated in, there is a certain inevitability in the way you present the information that I'm not sure is the case.
--- End quote ---

Additional insights on the process of community building can be found in Jono Bacon's book The Art of Community Building. O'Reilly currently publishes the print edition. But a free PDF version is available for download here.

In the spirit of community, Mr. Bacon's book was released under a Creative Commons [Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)] license.

It's well worth the read.  8)


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