The first Building Online Communities meetup was at Google Campus last week. To fully disclose, I helped a little in organising it. But it was a good one, even if I say so myself.
Helen talked first about the development of interests.me, which is a great platform for creating online communities. The most interesting point for me was the difficulties they’ve come across. For example, privacy and anonymity are often valuable features, but they can also work against building and expanding communities. Which makes Facebook’s insistence on using real names more understandable from one point of view (though not from many others). This is something that we’ve found with Club Soda too: talking about alcohol and drinking is still somewhat taboo, which means that many of the usual ways of doing things online may not be feasible. And the spread of something like this online is therefore not very viral at all.
The value of leaders in keeping the discussion going is also worth thinking about. At least one, or perhaps a few very active people are needed to avoid the saddest sight of all: an online forum with the most recent post from six months ago.
On the positive side, people are still looking for new ways of connecting with each other, especially if they already have something in common. And geography might be making a comeback: the whole world may be connected, but we are still most connected in many ways to the people in our local neighbourhoods.
The rest of the meetup was spent on discussing any problems or issues the attendees are experiencing. This was really interesting and useful as well – we talked about the pros and cons of various tech platforms, and the role of content in getting and maintaining attention.
So all in all a very good evening. And there will be more of these meetups, probably monthly.