MeatballWiki | RecentChanges | Random Page | Indices | Categories
"There is no there there." - GertrudeStein?
For all the fancy rhetoric that has been bandied about in the last decade or so about virtual communities, ComputerMediatedCommunication, and so on, it seems that the things that make a VirtualCommunity successful are those very things that bring it closest to an idyllic community in MeatSpace. These are:
- A sense of place, or geographic familiarity. Think Grandma's house.
- A sense of being in familiar company.
- A sense of Commonality, i.e. WeAreAllOne?, in some respect.
- A sense of safety.
- A sense of there being a reason to be there, a benefit to the community member.
- A likelihood that there's someone there when you want there to be.
(At this point, I shift gears a bit...)
Interestingly, I just came up with five senses (without trying, really!), which leads me to consider how our own physical senses could also be used as a metaphor for perceiving comfort in community. Let's use these five senses to see how a VirtualCommunity could approach providing a pleasing sensation:
- Branding, that mantra of marketing people, has a solid foundation in how we are wired, biologically. In what ways could a user 'see' community? Certainly, a consistent branding approach would provide the user with a sense of familiarity when they come back to a virtual community. We have all seen web sites that seem quite overcluttered, like http://cnn.com, and this engenders feelings of suffocation. But, carefully branded sites like http://www.yahoo.com have just enough use of visual continuity to give a feeling of familiarity without being too much. My experience with Wikis has been that they are generally too sparse in this regard. This is, of course, up to the host of the site, who decides what will appear in the headings and footings of all pages. Note our own humble Meatball image in the upper right hand corner of each screen. Without it, this site would seem unbearably impersonal, with a cute little meatball image on it, it would seem downright cute. Thus, the power of branding. Provide consistent, pleasing, not overbearing, branding elements and the user will attach feelings (good or bad) with what they see, based on their experience with the site. Consistent visual presentation and branding gives a placeless community a sense of location.
- For a virtual community to sound good, I think, requires that its content, what users read to themselves, what they hear, sounds good. Or, at least, that it not be a cacophony of unexpected, unpleasant sounds. Yes, this is highly subjective, but a virtual community, for example, of elderly ladies interested in crochet (a crochet cliche, if you will) would certainly recoil, collectively, at vulgar language, like Mother Fucking Cock Sucker. But, a community of Eminem fans would rejoice at such language. This is not a call for censorship, just an observation that the loud clash of unexpected, unwelcome content needs to be dealt with in some way for a community to sound good. Likewise, content needs to provide value to sound good, not just be banal drather, if drather is even a word.
- Smell, that most ephemeral of senses, is used to very quickly assess a situation and respond accordingly. If something stinks, we recoil. If something smells wonderful, we move in for a closer look. If something gives a faint, tantalizing air, we are intrigued. I would categorize smell, then, as what the user is immediately presented with on visiting a site. Give them three (for some reason, this is a magic number for us) immediate reasons to stay (a couple of provocative links, a pleasing site appearance) and it smells like time to stick around a learn more. Give them popup ads and too much clutter, and they will say that the site stinks, and will go elsewhere.
- A site has good touch when its use is easy, consistent, gratifying. Dare I mention AmericaOnline? as a model of this? It is too simplistic to those of us who make computer use our profession, but to RegularPeople it has a pleasing look and feel, a pleasing touch. For example, if a Wiki had a colorful, three dimensional button that said "Join in!" at the top of the page, instead of a sparse "Edit the text of this page" link buried among other links at the bottom of each page, it would be likely to increase participation, don't you think?
- Our sense of taste is quite complex, and seems to be a collective sense, influenced by sight, sound, smell and texture. A chocolate cookie would not taste so good if it screamed in horror as we bit into it, or had the consistency of sinewy beef. So, it is no mistake that we liken something being in 'good taste' to it having a pleasing appearance, sound and feel. What makes a virtual community tasteful is a highly individual thing, dependant on the context of the site. Tacky visuals (sight), lousy content (sound), offensive presentation (smell), and counterintuitive user experience (feel) can all spoil a sites tastefullness.
These are my preliminary thoughts on BuildingVirtualCommunities. Please, feel free to join in!
I think that the considerations above are too theoretical. Virtual communities are beasts of their own. Although a sparrow and a elephant are both animals, I don't think that knowing a lot about elephants will help us in raising and feeding and understanding sparrows. There are a number of good books about building commercial virtual communities (e.g. the outdated classic NetGain, CommunityBuildingOnTheWeb), but I think the authors never try to understand the people and the needs and the mechanics of virtual communities. -- HelmutLeitner
One very concrete litmus test for community that works for me is whether there's a place i can go and be pretty sure that there will be someone to hang out with. In the virtual context this has the regular meaning for real-time systems. For asynchronous communities it's more like how sure can i be that someone will respond meaningfully within a reasonable amount of time. For example, when i post to a newsgroup or wiki how likely is it that i'll get a response in a day or two? the more likely that is, the more it feels like community (so someone better reply/edit this :) -- JohnAbbe
- I think you are absolutely right. There also should be enough traffic in RecentChanges. -- HelmutLeitner
- If you are not being heard (via RecentChanges), it could be because
- you are speaking in a room where no one visits
- you are speaking in a room where many people are already speaking
- you speak too quietly, and people don't hear you (MinorEdits)
- you speak, but your voice does not carry far enough - RecentChangesOnOtherWikis?
- The interesting thing to me is that this suggests a scaleable RecentChanges - a member registers their topics of interests (eg. on their HomePage, or by simply adding their signature onto a page as with normal practice), and then some [mumble] code finds those changes near to you. The scale of "near" could be determined by you as just another parameter (like the # days parameter). The analogy then is if you don't see anything interesting happening you should (a) come out of your cave, and (b) look up from the ground and towards the horizon.
- Is there a RecentChangesSuggestions page where this concept of ranged locality of interest is already discussed? -- EricScheid [CategoryMeatballWikiSuggestion]
- Sometimes I don't reply to people addressing me directly because I'm very busy. But then again, I'm a NegligentLeader?. -- SunirShah
This page caught my eye in RecentChanges because i thought it said BuildingViralCommunities?. Hmm...
- Some virtual communities are indeed viral... once infected, you just can't stop coming back...
- It can help in building virtual communities to give gentle nudges and reminders about the community to its members. People don't pass by casually, like they might a local park or cafe on their way to work or whatnot. No one likes constant email pestering, but the ability for users to opt in on for reminders--maybe a digest listing of "recent changes" in their email box every x days--can help. Community email newsletters--again, something they can opt in/out of--would also help. -- JohnWindmueller
I think this page has begun to drift toward just a list of attributes of a good virtual community. And sure, a good community is a good draw. But maybe it would help--or at least fit the page topic a bit more--to refocus more at the act of building those communities -- JohnWindmueller
See also Rheingold's TheArtOfHostingGoodConversationsOnline.