Structuring vibrant communities

The numerous problems with pseudo online communities I listed yesterday can be easily eliminated. Taken as individual problems to solve, remedial efforts will only lead to frustration. The underlying structure of the community needs to be revised. Here are four key ingredients to a vibrant underlying structure:
  1. Pronounced diversity: Most gatherings are set up as level playing fields to subvert anyone taking control or over-powering the group. This imposed homogeneity keeps exceptional talents, experience or resources from alienating, intimidating or diminishing particular members, . Everyone appears equally incompetent, inexperienced and lacking in resources for the sake of harmony. Nobody knows what anyone else is good for. When differences in talent, experience and resources get brought to light, lots more can get done. It becomes clear to all who to call upon for what, how many problems can be addressed productively and which combinations of members will be the most fruitful. The diversity gets recast as a valuable asset to the community, rather than as a looming threat to its cohesion.
  2. Evolving personal profiles: Ordinarily, member profiles serve the purpose of only providing a published directory. The profiles get filled out in a perfunctory frame of mind. These listings get used by newcomers learning about established members, who in turn, learn about the new members. The profiles get looked at only once by any individual because that look-see resolved any questions, dashed any hopes and lowered every expectation for the future. Profiles ought to be revisited often and play into further questions, optimism and goals. This occurs when profiles are regarded as works in progress that reveal more over time. Evolving profiles create expectations that these customized, updated and reconfigured profiles are really worth visiting regularly. This in turn makes the members seem more interesting, worth knowing and potentially valuable for exploring issues together.
  3. Standing requests: Most requests of community members are made in passing via email, forums, or blogs. If members don't get to them right away, they don't know if the request still stands, got enough responses or needs more input. There's no reply-by date or closure on the request. All that can be changed by using a wiki-style web page for standing requests. Responses can be added to the page, just like adding comments to a blog post. However, the page will get updates about the status of the request, appreciation for those who have responded and eventually be closed out.
  4. Virtuous cycles of feedback: In an atmosphere where members are posturing and pronouncing self-congratulatory positions, feedback becomes adversarial. The follow-up comments may attack the arrogance, downplay the sales pitch and diminish the claims being made. Comments may, alternatively, offer gratuitous praise to the like-minded, collude with a tribe member or validate an underlying conspiracy. These brands of feedback form vicious cycles, deplete community vibrancy and engender a predominance of silence. Virtuous cycles can be formed by a formalizing an added element to the transactions. This added component can be observations about the pattern of interactions, restatements of a particular position, efforts to better understand an individual, work on the relationship between adversaries or the restoration of bilateral feedback. In every instance, the effect is energizing. It pays to give feedback and get feedback in return. The wording becomes constructive in this improved atmosphere. The quality of contributions to the community soars as these virtuous cycles take effect.

When an underlying structure like this gets installed, countless problems disappear. Community members feel understood and well situated to understand others. They experience getting talked with, instead of talked at. They notice they are no longer talking to a wall, but are finding out where they stand, how it's coming across to others and what else needs to be said. Members gain proof that they are making a difference which gives them incentives to contribute in more and better ways. The abundance of value created by the community gives rise to many more voices, ideas, approaches and solutions.

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