The best get-togethers for online community professionals are hosted by Forum One. Their sold-out summer 2008 Online Community Unconference was just held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. This year the demand was huge, and the percentage of participants from major institutions was up, too. I didn’t present at this one. I wanted to soak it all in. I dropped in on some great sessions and sorely wished I ‘d gotten around to others, such as Jake McKee’s sections.
I’m interested in best practices, all kinds of group behavior and tool-design patterns and also in pitfalls and worst case scenarios. I jumped in to session on what happens when things go terribly wrong from Heather Champ of Flickr and Derek Powazek of the edgy and elegant magazine, Fray. The discussion led to a list of things to remember in the midst of conflict. The items on this big list vary in applicability, based on the culture of a community … and can that ever be different!
My suggestion for the list was to try to let all parties have a way to save face in a dispute. This is one of the ways to do what Derek had advised: avoid creating motivated super-villains. Or noble martyrs, as they may feel if they do not think they were very villainous. I think that in most cases respect and the ritual conveyance of respect through good manners are key in resolving these matters. Even if expulsion is the resolution, there are advantages to having the exiled member accept that they won’t continue to have access to the gathering place for the group. While being all casual with peers works just fine in the good times, courtesy becomes bizarrely important when relations are stressed. That’s just one reminder I sometimes need!
I wouldn’t even begin to define the term “community” for this crowd, by the way. The ambiguity was probably all for the best. Some were thinking of a loosely interconnected group that may use an assortment of tools and modes of communication (including good old face to face talking) to stay in touch and identified. Others were thinking of the audience and interactive users of a particular site. Some were thinking of a larger “target audience” sense of people out there in the world who should be aware of one another. Listening to the use of the term from one person to the next was very interesting for that reason. Randy Farmer made the point that this group of people interested in these issues is now blossoming into something more than a clique who all know one another, into an extended community itself.
Randy Farmer is an opinionated, empassioned, seasoned online community pro,. His experience goes back to the founding of Habitat, the first graphical virtual community. The news: He left Yahoo earlier this spring and is working on a book about design choices in interactive multiuser contexts. His talk on context and tool/features patterns is shaping up too. Catch it if you can, both to learn and to give feedback that can make such a book more useful to us all when completed.