How do we get readers involved? How do we actually build the community around the wiki?
How can we prevent the "Deep Slumber" of wikis when they have an absent leader? The founder should act as a RoleModel, encouraging the "right" behaviour, channeling the writing process -- but when he is gone, "right" behaviour must not stop, the writing must not decay.
A community is important because most people get more creative when they are engaged in dialogue -- reciprocal inspiration. See EnablingCreativity. Once new content is written, community assures PeerReview, and community allows all the SoftSecurity measures we expect of a wiki. A wiki without community decays.
When Sunir left for Europe and the States in 2002, Meatball slowly drifted into a deep slumber. It was used for the TourBus, it was used as a generic list of all wikis, it was used like an encyclopedia, in fact. No more essays. No more refactoring of interesting discussions. No interesting discussions about the building of online communities and BarnRaising in the first place.
What had happened?
It seems that there was not one amongst the Meatball regulars, that felt like stepping in and offering some deep thoughts -- or that nobody shared the exact interests of its founder, and thus none of the things discussed in his absence had the Touch of Sunir.
If Sunir had said "right, I'm off for good", maybe someone would have. But the GroupThink seemed to be that we'd better not mess too much with the heart of Meatball while he was away. Hence the fringe developments.
Leaders might go absent for a number of reasons besides a general loss of interest in the SuperordinateGoal. Life may reassert itself and take up all the leader's time. Children, personal crisis, vacation, life changes, unemployment or employment are all higher priorities than an OnlineCommunity that gives little back to the leader. Constant negative feedback from the community, such as trolls, stalkers, and constant SnipingCriticism, might also deter the leader's ongoing involvement. The trouble is, as the ultimate VestedContributor, the leader may not actually want to leave, and this puts him or her in a difficult relationship with one foot in and one foot out. This lack of commitment and attention may result in further negative feedback (directly or indirectly through mistakes), and thus the leader might find him or herself trapped in a love/hate relationship with the community.
In typical organizations, the solution is for the leader to step down and let others take charge. This could be painful, especially if it is piled upon a number of other personal problems in the leader's life. It may appear to him or her that their personal personal problems are destroying the other parts of their life that should bring them joy (presumably including the OnlineCommunity), and this might cause them to attempt to reconstruct the failing OnlineCommunity through heroism. Don't do that. It's like picking at a wound.
If you're too attached, you may want to appoint an interim leader while you take care of your own business. You might also want to DevolvePower so that your leadership is not required in the interim. You may want to radically DevolvePower so that there is no "leader." After all, people should be able to and encouraged to move things forward on the basis of their hands, hearts, and mind, not their title.
Devolving power might lead to the growth and maturation of other leaders within the community. While the absence of a leader during this process will lead to a power vacuum where these subordinate leaders try to assert dominance, it only takes some minimal effort by the current leader to keep these people in line. A really wise leader would always be on the look out for leadership potential and seek to mature them as fast as possible. After all, one day everyone becomes an AbsentLeader.
Finally, an AbsentLeader is a bottleneck for community's growth. They do not know whether they are free to go in this direction or another, and thus they are held back. The best thing for a leader, much like a parent, is to let their creation go forth and have a life of its own because their successes will in the end reflect best upon the leader.