FOWA 07: Tara Hunt – Building Online Communities

Development of community on the net
– Personal home pages and profile
– Personal content creation
– Ability to interact with others
– ability to ‘friend’ with others.

Benefits of community
– heightened customer loyalty
– self-policing
– amplified word of mouth
– better feedback
– stronger ad more interesting filets on content

Three levels of communcity
– lightweight social processes: Digg,, Craisglist,, Amazon, Netvibes
– collaborative information structures – Flickr, YouTube, Threadless
– high-end collaboration – Wikipedia, Lostpedia, OS projects, CouchSurfing

Case studies
Flickr – photo sharing community. What is success? Growing healthy communities. Flickr still growing a healthy community.
Twitter – SMS community. Just answer the simple question ‘what are you doing right now’. People subscribe and find out what you’re doing. Grown fast. Addictive, if you haven’t tried it don’t cos we like it working.
Wordpress – developer community
Threadless – art-based apparel community
Barcamp – geek conference community

Common themes
– sense of fun/play
– keeping the dialogue going
– “wouldn’t be awesome if…”
– “simple platforms for building on”
– compelling stories
– rewarding of community members

Technorati Tags:

Have Fun
Founders in each case had an idea that what they were doing should be fun, people should have fun. Creating it for themselves or for their friends.

Ev Williams, Twitter: “I just wanted to create a company that would be as much fun and fulfilling as possible. Fun in work to me means a lot of freedom, and a ton of creativity, working with people I respect and like, and pursuing ideas that are just crazy enough to work. I don’t want to have to worry about getting buy-in from executives or a board, raising money, worrying about investors’ perception or cashing out.”

Not ‘frat house’ fun, but joy and passion in what you are doing.

Translates to building the website. Playful messaging on the site, e.g. 404 pages on Twitter, Flickr. WordPress ‘hello dolly’ default plug-in.

Treadless all about fun, the language is casual, enjoyable.

Keeping the dialogue going
This is crucial, especially in the early days.
Personal use of the product. So many start ups don’t use their own product. In early days of Twitter, Ev was using it all time and creating dialogue on the site.
Involved personally in customer support. When companies get big they tend to hire in customer support, but Matt Mullenweg answers as much customer support as possibly. Craig Newmark does the same.

Flickr, greeting customers. “Online community building is just like being the host of the party, if your guests come to a party and they don’t know anyone, they’ll leave” –

Wouldn’t it be awesome if
Take an experimental approach to development.

Threadless: “We basically make all of our decisions to work ion a new projects after we her the phrase ‘wouldn’t it be awesome if. it doesn’t means everything works, but many things do.” – Jake

BarCamp: The first Barcamp was just a spontaneous reaction to FOOCamp, because many people hadn’t been invited to FOOCamp.

Embrace the chaos
Flickr emerged out of A Game Neverending.

Google: allows for “ideas to bubble up from lightly supervised engineers, none of whom worry too much about their projects ever making money.”

The power of word of mouth
Flickr talks about how early on they build in a variety of ways to share every early on: Blog, RSS, copy and paste URLs.

Participants are media creators: podcasting, blogging, IRC, wiki, etc. Early adopters tend to be very social already, so spreading by word of mouth is pretty easy.

Twitter: Instead of adding more features, adding more ‘on-ramps’: jabber, email, web-based, etc. How many other ways can we let people message each other.

Involving the community in decisions
Flickr: Listen to your users and be flexible
Threadless: Let the community create the content and make the decisions. “If the community says we should die, then we should, because we live and die by the audience.”
Barcamp: Put the audience in charge – the audience makes Barcamp.

Simple platforms to build on
Google Maps vs. Yahoo! Maps. Google is pretty simple and easy, but Yahoos is very rich internet application, lots of stuff going on, but when you go to the ProgrammableWeb, 51% of the API is Google, and 4% is Yahoo! Maps. Simplicity of Google Maps makes it attractive for people to build on.

Tantek Celik talks about Building blocks,
– tools, resources or techniques
– built by experts
– usable by non-experts
– combine blocks
– build larger blogs from smaller blocks

WordPress: Make your platform simple and extensible
Flickr: Provide a simple but rich API
BarCamp: Keep it simple and document it openly
Twitter: Focus on one function well
Threadless: “Keep it to the torso”

Compelling stories
Twitter and the birth of Obvious.
Flickr, GNE to photosharing.
Wordpress: Matt the wonderkid.
Threadless: Jake and Jake just loved art.
Barcamp: six days, no resources, story of will

Community rewards
Flickr: free pro accounts, anniversary parties, schwag, Easter eggs
Twitter: featured members, blogging
Wordpress: featuring developers
Threadless: as they make more $$, so do the artists
BarCamp: more privileges as leaders emerge

Setting fertile ground for your own community
What turns a customer into a member of the community is motivation. There has to be a benefit to the user’s life.
How do you change? have to create a sense of community: more levels.

1. Feelings of membership
2. Feelings of influence
3. Integration and fulfilment of needs
4. Shared community

Feelings of membership arise from:
– creation of community boundaries
– perception of emotional safety
– sense of belonging and identification
– use of common symbols, languages

Personal profile pages, friending, defining groups within the larger group, invitations to group.
Allow for lots of personal and group expression. Audience verticals, suited to a specific community and enhances sense of security and belonging

Feelings of influence arise from:
– being able to influence a group, voice heard
– being included by the group, learning
– feedback responsiveness, includes founders
– rule enforcement and creation by members

Includes: forums, chat, comments, blogging, personalised mail.
Create many ways to express.

Integration and fulfilment of needs
– feeling of being supported by others
– rewards of being a member such as status
– expertise
– shared values
– feeling of competence within the group, e.g. raised status

Maslow’s hierarchiy of needs
1. physiological
2. security/safety
3. social – this is where we get into this fulfilment of needs
4. sefl-estime/ego
5. self-actualisation

Includes statues rewards: featuring members, VIPs, karma points, etc.
traditions and rituals.

Shared emotional connection
– relationships
– interaction
– shared history and crisis
– investment of time and resources
– honour and humiliation
– spiritual levels

Can’t be created but shared experience can help. Offline meet-ups celebrations and developer days help.

Got to be patience. Community can take a long time to emerge.

In conclusion: Complex, hard work, but very high rewards and long term.

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