19 October 2005

Cliquey Community?

In previous posts I've spoken about the importance of community spirit to the success of your message board - good advice, no doubt, but sometimes it can go too far. Communities can get so close (e.g. many members being on first name basis) that you can have serious trouble turning lurkers and newbies into active members.

This problem is more likely to hit small, young forums - on a large message board there's usually enough diversity between the subforums that there are plenty of opportunities for lurkers and newbies to integrate without problems or fear. On a young forum however, if a 'clique' of 'veteran' members forms, it could easily 'choke' your community.

Interestingly enough, the risk of a 'closed community' (which is intimidating and/or hostile to outsiders like lurkers or newbies) getting established on your boards is greatest right at the start. Let me explain. When starting up a new site, the lack of activity can be extremely frustrating, and there's a big temptation to get all your friends to sign up and post. In the short term, you get masses of activity, and the stats rise nicely. That's what I experienced on Rockforums.net when I started up - all my friends from uni signed up and started posting, and a few of their brothers, and brothers' friends, too. The growth of my forums was gorgeous, the posts were rolling in.

The thing I hadn't noticed, or realised the danger of, was that a lot of these posts people were making were like 'Bob, what are you doing on the weekend? I'm going over to Andy's'. This, of course, meant absolutely nothing to the other users of the site, who just felt excluded as a result, and never felt like hanging around long enough to become a part of the community. So the problem here is, don't rely exclusively on your friends for posting and growth, or else their posts, quite naturally, will just be a string of in-jokes, similar opinions, and generally threads and posts which other members have absolutely no desire to be a part of.

What's worse, your friends will often break the board rules just for a joke, to see how strict you're prepared to be. You may understand it's a joke, and be lenient, but others may just see blatant rulebreaking and the admin turning a blind eye - setting a terrible example. Deciding how strict to be with your real life friends, and friends of friends, is an extremely hard thing to do!

So the moral of the story: whilst you can get great short-term boosts by enlisting the help of all your real-life friends to get a site started, or more active, there's a big risk that the long term effect of that strategy will be that the community won't be open enough to new members, and growth in the future will be affected, as spam and crap, uninteresting discussion goes rife because you don't want to annoy your friends by deleting their threads and posts.

My tip to someone starting up a forum is: get a few of your friends, maybe three at most, to help out getting things started, but you're safer looking elsewhere on the Internet for new members and more posting.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's very important for the owner of a forum to set a vibe that everyone is comfortable with. You give power to the wrong moderators, they will often do things to counteract your efforts for selfish reasons. When you run a forum, do it right. Get involved enough to make it a positive place to dwell and step out to let the masses decide what they want to discuss.


Thursday, October 20, 2005 5:22:00 pm  

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