Community building strategies in an atomized online universe

passing out candy


This picture was originally uploaded by me over at Flickr as fotogail as “passing out candy“: Danyel Fisher hands out his Microsoft labs community technologies research tool disks and attracts a swarm of giggling attention.

Some of my questions from two days of Online Community Summit:

So far as Community Business Models go, we do seem to be out from under the gun now that community features are the new black again. Before the Web 2.0 excitement, these sessions were full of people moaning about how to convince the bean counters that forums or other tools were of value. That seems to have gone away this year. Just another phase, or a sea change?

When will we be far enough along so that mobile community design and organizing discussions are not half about carrier models and other platform questions? Yet all kinds of sites do mobile uploads or rss reading. Actually making the mobile properties useful for interactive purposes on the hoof is still rare, with dodgeball still being one of the few services that actually plays with group interactions and mobility.

The reputations tools discussion underscored for me that reputation and/or ranking should be used thoughtfully and perhaps not at all… it may be that ranking people is too provocative, and that you want to consider ranking nothing, or only specific sorts of actions or content contributed. (But then again, provocation might be just what you seek in setting up your system.) We seemed to be pretty conversant with the somewhat obvious truism that if you make a system where one can “win” being voted to the top of some category, that becomes a primary user purpose. The only takeaway is to use these tools carefully.

The potential breakout session I thought was most promising didn’t take place (in a modified open conference model the top four breakouts were done, while a few of us really wanted to talk about strategies for community builders in an atomized online universe. It seems like software providers should be all over this, too, but we didn’t get traction and I think the most exciting ideas were not touched.

Where the software folks are going is interesting. Microsoft continues to work on data analysis of behaviors in a complex group environment. We had a presentation from Danyel Fisher this time — a lot of fun, although most of the spectacular features are similar to Mark Smith’s presentations at OCS two years ago. What Microsoft hasn’t done so far, as you may notice, is to bring a community software product to market. Interesting to think about what advantages or ideas they may and may not have in this area where there has been so much innovation under the anarchic opensource and Web2.0 flag Still, the very fact of that dispersed innovation means plugging in or otherwise extending functionality with other people’s code is almost required now. So I wonder who will give that direction a try — if they can step up to the plate in a way that supports making use of new ways to create connections. The major software manufacturers in this space can almost all ask themselves the same questions: how can community members use your tool to stay connected to people who use other platforms? Could turning your community outward — or making it possible for more commericial software providers to enable the ability for users to turn outward via rss &etc – start to confer a competitive advantage, make people happy?

All kinds of interesting questions in the air. It was fun.

Addendum — some public links:

Jim Cashel

scooblog – Josh Legard

Wolz 

And my own prior post on this.

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