Monday, November 24, 2008

Online Communities - Grown or Built?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you allA huge tree viewed from its base.
photo by Nicolas Allan.

I recently left a comment on Richard Millington's post, You Don't Need To Be An Expert.

He claimed that, "you don’t need to be an expert within the industry to build an online community. But you do need the ability to recruit and motivate experts." He saw the job of building an online community like that of the entrepreneur who simply recruits "experts who love to run an online community".

I wondered about his idea and expressed that I would like to see it in action. Somehow I felt that, fundamentally, there was something askew with this idea. I left a comment:

Building online communities is something that everyone seems to have an idea about. It's a bit like education. Everybody thinks they know how to teach.

I would say, from my limited expertise in this field, that anyone who thinks it's about building is in for a shock. It's a bit like building a tree.

Can you build a tree?

You can build a log cabin. But that's what it remains. Watching an online community form and expand is more like growing a tree than building one.

You have to plant the seed. They don't all germinate. When one does, you have to water it with care, provide nourishment and support. As it continues to grow, you may have the opportunity of seeing it blossom and fruit may appear - if you've cared for it properly, that is.

As the tree gets bigger, more fruit can be harvested after each year's blossom. But you have to maintain the tree, lest it catches a disease and gets sickly. A sickly tree doesn't bear fruit.

If the tree is from good stock, you may be lucky enough to take some of its seed and plant another tree or more. With appropriate care you can have an orchard of good fruit-bearing trees.

But you have to tend the orchard, for the same reason as you had to tend the single tree that grew.

No. I don't think online communities are built. I'd be inclined to grow mine.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


Sue Waters said...

I really should read Richard's post before commenting however a bit short of time at the moment.

My belief is online communities are grown not built. Regardless of how much money you spend people won't come if they don't want to.

When he is talking about experts is he meaning experts on the topic or experts on facilitating online communities? Two very different concepts. What you really want is people who willingly interact and want to be participate in the online network.

paul c said...

I like the nurture image of the tree, Ken. When I first started blogging almost a year ago, I had no idea how difficult it would be to build a tribe or community. I am convinced that you build your readership one at a time. You're watering delicate seedlings for a while that could quickly shrivel in the hot sun of the Internet superhighway. And then there are the long summer droughts....You need to keep up the vision and the will.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā kōrua

I get the impression that there's a lot we agree on here.

Sue- I think Richard is referring to experts (rather than the blogger) who know how to 'build' online communities. Frankly, I'd rather improve my own skills in that area, but then, I have a vested interest in the participants from the point of view of a teacher.

Paul- Many have found growing an online community to be a salutary experience. It is quite different from getting participants engaged when there is a 'captured' group, such as in a classroom.

I like your idea of nuturing individual participants. In essence, this is what I've found it comes down to until such times as participants can engage with each other supportively. I've found that can occur, often over a common interest. They will not necessarily engage in the topic of 'the lesson' though. That can be the frustrating bit :-)

Catch ya later

Anne Marie said...

I love the tree analogy and I know you are interested in complexity, where it is often used.
I look forward to continuing to enjoy your blog.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tenei te mihi ki a koe, Anne Marie!

I had a love affair with trees, many years ago, when I went mad over a series of years and planted (probably) hundreds of native New Zealand trees on the side of a hill in Wellington.

I still plant native trees from time to time. I just love the birds they attract and the ambiance that trees create around them.

Great to have you drop by.
Catchya later

Manish Mohan said...

The way I see it, according to Richard building = setting up the infrastructure and recruiting experts (and I would add non-experts too). This is indeed easy with all open source tools available. Recruiting does require credibility and it isn't completely easy though easier than getting the community to participate.

Richard also mentions "coaching them (experts), motivating them and finding rewards for their time.It means designing the architecture for the community to succeed. It means coming up with ideas they would love to implement. Most of all, it means giving them everything they need, then getting out the way."

I believe this is 'growing' the community, and this is indeed the hard part that takes its own time.

I have been trying to experiment with communities, running a team blog and administering groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. The team blog technically has about 20 authors and the both groups are more than 120 people. Sure it isn't much but the team blog and groups are reasonably targeted. It has been hard to get this going. So while building the infrastructure and recruiting was easy, getting the group to participate is hard and will need to 'grow' with time.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Haere mai Manish.

Thank you for this point of view. I repect your advice. 'Recruiting' isn't a word that I'm familiar with in blogging contexts - I may have misunderstood its meaning in this context in that case. I must admit that I didn't consider the possibility that I may have misunderstood its meaning.

You have done well to get your team blog going so successfully. To have a community of more than 120 is also commendable.

But when you talk of these 120 or so, are these people in a work environment, say a closed group? Or are they people that can participate from anywhere on the net?

I believe that there must be many different ways to provide incentives for participation, depending on the make-up of the groups, and also the nature of the shared interest.

The 'closed' groups that I have studied, have all been to do with learning. Sometimes the members are somewhat reluctant to participate, for one reason or another. This has been a challenge to most online teachers, for instance.

Catchya later