Is not an easy task. Anyone who has tried their hand in the job knows this very well. We all have been a part of some community at some point of our lives. If you can’t agree with the last sentence and your life is not horrible, I’d really like to know more about you :).
It all begins from family (most the time). We all know that holding families together is not always an easy task. This is perfectly normal because a family is essentially a community. building communities is hard. Keeping them intact is harder.
I have sure been through the hardships of keeping the ball rolling for communities, if not building them anew. It’s almost always an exhausting task. It sucks life out of you and leaves you there with an eternally damaged soul. Perhaps I’m not the best leader, or the guy with good enough social skills for the task. But for the geek I am, I sure can squeeze the hundred per cent out of me to put life in something I love to see alive. But that doesn’t seem to do the job. There are so many moving parts that rules the success of a community.
The most important ingredient in a community is the people. Without people can not exist a community. Duh!. Managing people is a horrendous task, at least for me. So what I’ve learned building communities and mostly failing at it is, building community is all about attracting people and having the right people in the core all the time. I read between the last two periods several times to make sure I put it right. And yes it’s not about attracting RIGHT people. Have as much people as possible in the community. This allows corrupt people in too. That is not a problem as long as they don’t make it in to the core. Here’s where we come to the point, having RIGHT people at the core.
“Having right people at the core”, doesn’t sound right at all, I know. It doesn’t simply sound wrong, it sounds wrong at two levels.
1) Having a separation as a core and not core.
2) Having a separation as right people and not right people.
Recipe for doom right there. But only if it’s done explicitly and with too much process. A community that is going to stay a community will execute the said moderations automatically with hands-ups from vast majority. And the people in lead should always make sure this happens smoothly and not too many people get pissed off. Also, it’s very important to understand that making everyone happy is not even an option. Openness, transparency, value for everyone’s opinion are all good qualities a community should have. But maintaining the balance and keeping the community alive is equally important. What I’m trying to explain is already happening out there in successful communities. But still, most the communities either fail to see that or refuse to embrace the truth.
The second most important thing in a community is leadership. “Leadership” here doesn’t have to be a single person or a group that is always have the authority of making decisions. Rather some ‘characters’ the whole community can look at (not up to) and gather around. The leadership can be different individuals at different situations. The only requirement here is to ALWAYS have a leadership. Mostly in open communities, one man running the show is frowned upon. Open and successful communities allow everyone to take leadership roles at relevant points. Even though that’s the best way things
should can be, mostly a single personality leading a community is common in practicality. Leadership matters can lead a community in to politics. The moment you see power struggles in a community is the best time to leave that community (if you are not one of the assholes who are involved, of course).
The worst thing about building and maintaining communities is having to deal with politics. It’s possible to keep politics to a minimum. But it takes a lot of discipline. Discipline from each and everyone in the community. This is the reason why it’s so difficult to keep a community out of politics. Dealing with external politics is not as nearly as bad as going through internal politics crap. It’s ironic how the most important ingredient in a community happens to be the avada-kedavra on it. Anyway, the three qualities I mentioned before, Openness, transparency, value for everyone’s opinion together with open discussions at the dawn of any problematic situation can help a lot in keeping politics at it’s smelly dark pits.
A community can get all above mentioned things right and still go extinct. That is by doing nothing to serve the cause it’s there for. A worthy community should always be active. There should be things happening. At least as some discussions in a mailing list or an occasional hangout in a pub. When community members don’t feel a sense of life in a community they start to forget about that community. It’s like members leaving the community without even knowing that they are leaving. The leadership should make sure that there’s something going on in the community at any given time. Also planning for the future is very important. Not planning is the number one reason why some communities meet the destiny of dinosaurs. Community members, on the other hand, should take something on to table whenever they can. This not only help the community stay alive, it makes the particular member more welcome in the community and lands future leadership opportunities.
Finally a note about RefreshColombo, a community that is doing surprisingly well. I’m really proud that people who are the core are doing a great job building the community. I can see them having hit the point of balance which seems to be it’s major strength. It started as mostly a tech community. At some point they evolved blending tech and online communities together. I’m having a hard time chosing words here. To explain a little bit, by tech community I mean the people who are techy by profession. There’s a lot of people who are not like that but still engage in a very healthy online community (Geeks finally won, right?). Taking these people together is the reason there’s a lot of people who care about the community.
I know about this because I saw and was involved in attempts to build tech communities in Sri Lanka. They failed pathetically for some reason (I have an opinion about this but.. not quite the time or place to write about). I don’t know if it’s intentional but Refreshcolombo switching to a format that
allowed attracted more people in actually helped it stay a community to date.
Refreshcolombo is wide open for the opinions of community (as I know). This makes membership feel more comfortable involving in. So there are members. But that is not enough. A community should stay alive and the members need a
leadership core to gather around. The core team of Refreshcolombo is doing pretty well. If any of you feel like being special, take something to the table. You are going to be very welcome.