Community ownership and social networks as markets

March 24, 2012 | 2 comments

Johannes Ernst just put me to shame by writing this blog post while sitting next to me at Elgg Camp San Francisco:

[...] But there’s a stronger undertone from speaker after speaker talking about their projects. It’s about how the community wants and needs to own and control their social network (instead of just merely having a little section inside a worldwide social network). And how the community wouldn’t be as strong if they couldn’t. About the community needing to evolve the communication tools in parallel to how the community evolves. About how it is almost impossible to “work together” with others on a general-purpose site like Facebook, and how even high school students automatically switch to their school social network when attempting to get something done.

You can read the whole post here.

I spoke a little about ensuring the longevity of communities, which is something I’ve begun to think about in a general context: if you’ve established a community site and attracted a solid social network of people, how do you ensure that the community remains vibrant in six months, or three years, or a decade from now? How do you make sure, to put it bluntly, that maintaining a community remains worth your time?

In the same way that a community site augments the social experience for a network of people, I’m interested in explicit market features that augment the online social experience. For example, open source communities like the Elgg community itself: what if the Elgg ecosystem could crowdfund features and plugins?

This also speaks to community ownership. Why monetize a community using AdSense – content piped in from third parties outside the community, which may or may not be relevant but certainly are less passionate about the community’s topic – when you could empower the community to do this for itself? Why not allow online communities to be truly self-sustainable?

It’s been an interesting day, and I’m looking forward to talking to people afterwards. I’ve set up a collaborative latakoo How I Fly site here, for participants to collaboratively share video footage of the event.

Building a responsible online community for pulmonary fibrosis: real names won’t cut it here

September 21, 2011 | 3 comments

In my spare time, I’m building an independent community for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) researchers, doctors, sufferers and their families. IPF is a degenerative lung disease which builds up scar tissue over time, restricting the patient’s ability to breathe. It’s generally fatal and has no cure. My idea is to promote the discussion of the facts behind the illness, and approaches that have worked for different people. (Even things like, what’s the best oxygen generator?)

My aim is to release the community this Saturday, to sit in line with Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Week (which is all this week), but I’m rebooting it, and my day job requires significant attention, so there’s a good chance it may slip. It’ll be ready when it’s ready – but I wish I could put it out there today.

Obviously, it needs to be easy to use, even for very non-technical people. It has to be accessible, work on older browsers, take a very short amount of time to participate in, and so on. I have one big ground rule, which has been hard to fulfill with existing platforms:

An identity spectrum.

On one side of the coin, medical insurance in the US is a mess, and I don’t want participation in the community to adversely affect anyone’s ability to get medical attention. For this reason, pseudonyms should be allowed. Furthermore, while passwords are generally hashed so that nobody can gain access to them, I want to do this with email addresses. Because most people like to email the heck out of their users, nothing out there supports this.

On the other side of the coin, the doctors and researchers involved in the community need to be trusted – so I think verified identities are good idea, with a simple, manual, offline verification procedure.

In other words, users have control over how much or how little they share. If they want to receive email updates, they understand that their email address will be stored on the community servers; otherwise it won’t be. On the other side, if they want to publicly verify that they are, indeed, who they say they are, that’s fine too. And somewhere in the middle, people can choose to share selected information about themselves, either publicly or to other users.

This is very different to the work I do for my day job, or the decentralized social web I often advocate for. Privacy, choice over identity and the ability to feel protected when (literally) talking about matters of life and death are important.

I will, of course, make my work available to the community.

NB: this was originally published over on Google+, and there’s a great conversation developing over there.