Today marks seven years since I deleted my Facebook account. Since then, I’ve also deleted my Twitter account, leaving me merely with an Instagram and LinkedIn presence. While I don’t miss Facebook, I’m sometimes frustrated by the over reliance by organizations and businesses on its use as a community platform. This creates a barrier to communication with neighborhood groups and the like, a small price to pay, but nonetheless a sad note for those not using a specific product.
In my mind, a sound digital community should be established on a platform-agnostic framework, welcoming everyone regardless of their social network preferences. Sometime along the lines of WordPress, which is freely available to all would be a great solution to this problem. Unfortunately, many don’t see it as a problem at all.
Wondering whether or not it’s a good idea to move into that house next to the old nuclear power facility? Well, believe it or not, there’s an app for that.
Fellow +Google Glass Explorer +Chris Sewell tipped me off on a new open-source project called +Safecast which is centered around collecting information on radiation levels in communities around the world to increase citizen awareness.
The project took off in April of 2011, just one month and one day after the chain reaction resulting from a 9.0 earthquake hit Japan, completely crippling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
According to the information on the website about the various devices available to collect and share the data, only 117 have been deployed in the field so far. You can learn more here.
Recently Google announced the launch of a new feature for Google+, Communities. Since the announcement there have already been 20,478 communities created (according to circlecount.com). Community topics range from things as broad as Space (35,252 members) to things as small as Miniature Gaming (189 members).
The success of these communities will rely greatly on the amount of time and effort that has been put into them. Creating a broad topic and failing to moderate will quickly turn your community into the Wild West, filled with off-topic conversation and tons of spammers. However, if you mix the right ingredients, you can grow a vibrant community full of rich conversation, new discoveries and awesome connections.
If you want to create a community, but haven’t decided what to make it about, let me give you a suggestion: think local.
One of the things that Google+ offered us was the ability to connect with everyone around the world and discover people with like-minded interests. Now all of this discovering has been a lot of fun, but it doesn’t mean much when you’re not at the computer or using the app on your phone. Luckily, I have begun to make a lot of local real-life connections through Google+ that I meet and spend time with in the real world (thank you #Ingress).
There are millions of cool and interesting things happening around the world, some of which you might be able to participate in, but for the most part, probably not. It’s important to get out from behind the keyboard and your touchscreen and interact with the real world.
I created a community called Nashville+ because I was beginning to notice other members of the the Nashville “community” (funny how that word has another meaning, eh?) starting to embrace Google+. There was a huge opportunity to connect those users and give them the conduit to share interesting stories, photography, local news and other things like restaurant reviews.
The Google+ community I created is pretty small and somewhat stagnant at the moment and I’m fine with that. Like any good community, I want to make sure I have the correct foundation before I start bringing in the people to keep it moving. Once I get the categories sorted out that I like and plant some seeds for conversation, I’ll start contacting local businesses and individuals and offer them the opportunity to connect with other community members.
One thing to be careful of, though, is to make sure that the community doesn’t turn into a giant billboard. The last thing I need is every restaurant and bar posting their specials every day. What I would like to see is people sharing their experiences with different businesses and events. I would like to see people showing the human side of the community. Because, that’s really what community is all about.
Nashville+ is in its infancy, but I already have a few great things planned.
Do you have an idea for a local digital community? What are your plans for success?
We are now on day six of Google+ Communities and people are starting to learn a number of things very quickly. First and foremost, if you missed the opportunity to be the first to create a unique community surrounding one of your interests, don’t worry. It’s not about being the first, it’s all about being the best.
The first thought that crossed my mind when I heard that Google+ was releasing a communities feature was whether or not there would be a community for people that like to manage communities. It seems meta, I know, but it is very likely that the creators of these communities would like a forum to share their knowledge, tips, tricks and questions, while making a few important connections.
Since creating the Community Moderators community, we have had over 1,100 unique members join. We have had dozens of people’s questions answered, some very interesting feedback expressed towards the betterment of communities, and most importantly, a fellowship of people with like-minded interests.
In my last post, I talked about how Communities could be the answer to your biggest circle management nightmares. That theory only works if you are dealing with successful communities. So how do you make your community a success?
Bring the right people into the conversation.
A community is much like a new house, it is not going to build itself. However, it does require some of the same fundamental features of a house. It needs a good foundation, support beams, and protection from the elements.
The foundation of my community is a group of people that share passion for a common interest. Without the foundation, we would have no place to establish our pillars for success. Finding the people the are right for your community is tricky. Of course, you could always spam out to all of your followers and ask them to come and join, but what is in it for them? To attract valuable members to a community, you must show them the value of becoming a member.
For the Community Moderators community, the value was easy to demonstrate, if you come and join us, you will learn from other community moderators, have a chance to ask questions and gain valuable insight towards growing your own community. It sells itself, really. However, for some community topics, it may be harder to market value. Regardless, if you can cast your community in a light that shows value to potential members, you are more likely to attract members that are likely to actively participate in the conversation.
Support the conversation and keep it going.
As a community moderator, you will quickly find that you cannot answer every question and stimulate every conversation. The remarkable thing about having a community, is that the members of your community can work with each other to answer questions, create engaging conversation and exchange valuable content relative to your topic.
Initially, it may be difficult stimulating the level or quality of conversation that you would like to see within your community. Just like in a cold room, people are often shy and do not want to be ridiculed for their opinions. Start with some light conversation. Break the ice with your community. Show them that you all have humility and good will and can learn from each other.
As more people become more comfortable with sharing their thoughts and ideas, the conversation will begin to grow. Before you know it, you may have to call for some help to make sure the conversations are headed in the right direction and that people are familiar with your community and its guidelines.
Protect your community from the elements.
The Internet is like any other place in the world. It has good people, it has bad people and it has some people that just don’t know any better. Your job as a community owner is to ensure that you are moderating your community in a fashion that is not restricting free speech, but keeping out unnecessary commercial solicitations, spam and otherwise annoying contributions.
When you begin to protect your community from spammers, trolls and bullies, keep in mind that you are not InterPOL and your function isn’t to control what every member of your community has to say. Your just to to facilitate the conversation, keep it rich, keep it on topic (if necessary) and keep the evil doers at bay.
When deciding how to moderate (not police) your community, you might want to consider establishing a Code of Conduct or set of Community Guidelines. I have worked with the Google+ community at large to create an open-source set of Community Guidelines that you can find on github. These guidelines are free for you to use, interpret, change or use how you would like. If you would like to contribute to the project, please free to do so.
Keep in mind that your community guidelines should be general, light-hearted but also clear and concise. Your goal is not to create a rule for every possible situation, but to express to the community that certain behaviors such as hate speech, bullying or spam will not be tolerated. Set the tone early and remain consistent and your community will respect your efforts.
Most importantly, as you watch your community grow, remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.