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Short Takes: April 15, 2009



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April 15, 2009 —  (Page 1 of 3)
Secrets of social site success
You’ve got to trust your community to do the right thing, but also make it easy to clean up after people if they misbehave.

That’s a major point that I took away from the opening keynote from EclipseCon, held in Santa Clara last week. The speakers were Jeff Atwood, famous for his Coding Horror blog, and Clay Shirky, author of the insightful book "Here Comes Everybody," about the power of social groups in public life.

The topic was “The Social Mind: Designing like groups matter,” and Jeff and Clay found patterns in the success from their creation of StackOverflow, a user community for developers, and from successful communities like SlashDot and Wikipedia.

You should read Clay’s book, subscribe to Jeff’s blog and visit StackOverflow. But before you do that, here are four best practices that Jeff and Clay offered regarding creating a successful community site (the headings are theirs, but the descriptions are mine):

1. Radically lower the bar for participation. Don’t make prospective community members jump through hoops to participate or make them demonstrate specific expertise. Look at what makes Wikipedia successful: It has contributions from the small number of experts who really care about a specific subject, and also smaller contributions from the huge number of people who have a smaller commitment. Anyone can start a Wikipedia page; anyone can change a page; anyone can add to a topic or correct a mistake. Make everyone welcome and let everyone participate, as much as you can.

2. Trust (some of) your users. While you want a lot of participation, not all participants are equal. Some folks contribute more, some are more dedicated, some add a huge amount of value. Other folks contribute less. How do you decide who is more valuable and more trustworthy? Find ways to let the community decide, whether it’s through rankings, karma points or whatever. Then provide the means for those with more trust to lead the community.

3. Life is the world’s biggest MMORPG. Successful massively multiplayer online role-playing games mimic real life. People work hard if they can see that they’re making progress… and if they have goals to achieve. Those goals might be to slay dragons, win karma points, accumulate gold pieces, or whatever. Build those mechanisms into your system to encourage and reward behavior that you’d like to see in your community.



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