The Community Ecosystem

Ok, so I pretty much said my piece on this in my comment on that blog post. No worries, I can always find more words. It’s my blog and I’ll repeat myself if I want to. 🙂

I’ve always wondered how the interactions on sites evolve — or don’t. I don’t get a lot of comments here, but I also don’t have that big a readership, and folks I know are as likely to email me to comment on something they read, or just mention it next time they see me.

Of course, Andrew occasionally likes to incessantly ask “Are you blogging this? Are you going to blog this?” because he thinks he’s funny. Or he wants to be famous. Or something…

The “bigger” sites have always fascinated me in terms of their functioning dynamics. Does an interactive community develop, or does it remain a big group of people silently reading and enjoying. Or reading and disagreeing. Or reading and wondering if that information or those opinions really reflect anything other than what’s going on in one person’s head?

For those who comment, what attitude or tone do they take? Do they treat the site’s owner like a colleague, with reverence, or with that weird and somewhat creepy possessive familiarity that internet fame can bring?

Until now, I’ve mostly thought that the culture of a site came down to the person publishing the site. Writer’s style, content, and “atmosphere”, though if you asked me to quantify that last one, I couldn’t. But Chris’ piece got me thinking a lot more about the writer’s actions than material.

What and how much does the writer intentionally do to reach out to, connect with, and give to the greater online community? Are the writer’s efforts global or targeted — by topic, demographic, industry, geography, etc.? (Or maybe just trying to get noticed by A-listers or dugg…)

The comments about Zulu greetings really struck me, because that’s exactly what we do online: see each other. Unless I somehow make an effort to communicate with someone whose site I’ve read/enjoyed, that person will never know (unless they do some serious stats digging, I guess, and even that won’t tell them what I think).

As an extension of that, communities grow through those with similar interests, connections, etc. connecting with each other as well as with a site’s creator — reading each other’s comments, following links posted, discussing via tools like Twitter, etc.

I also think that these mechanisms for connecting decrease the “barrier to entry”, as it were, making people more inclined to come out of their shells and not lurk. (Lurking for most of us is pretty normal behaviour, and abandoning it takes an outside-the-comfort-zone effort.) The cool thing is, the more you connect, the easier it becomes to do. And engagement leads to passion — a cornerstone of community — and passion, of course, leads to evangelism, which makes the community (and a site’s traffic) grow even more.

Expectations that others will come to you are a losing proposition. People grow tired of being the only one who seems to make all the effort, in online relationships or off. If you want to build a community (or a business, or just make new friends…) be part of one. Even if at the start it’s only you. Think community. Until people start engaging back with you in your environment, work outwards — read, comment on, and post thoughts on others’ work that engages you.

You won’t always end up as part of new or existing communities, but more than likely you’ll find you end up as a connected and contented part of the ones where you truly belong.

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