Have you ever started reading a book and thought, almost immediately, “Damn…I really wish I had read this a few years ago!”
That was basically what went through my mind as I started getting into The Art of Community by Jono Bacon.
The book is written to treat community in a broad sense but it slightly skewed in favour of development projects (the Author is the Ubuntu community manager for Canonical… so that’s not a big surprise). However, it’s definitely worth being reminded about some very important principles and practical steps for developing any kind of community, particularly online. What’s nice about this book is that the author gives you concrete examples to illustrate why they are important.
One such principle is the importance of clear and simple processes. The web is a fairly unruly place where a lot of stuff seems to happen randomly. With so much going on, and the inherent ability for people to create anything, sometimes the idea of trying to control that seems counterintuitive. But, as Jono explains, you need to have effective processes in place to enable productive work to talk place. There are a lot of similarities to the factors you need to consider when looking at usability: how can you make the user’s journey quicker? How can you ensure they can easily get to grips with the environment that they are in (and therefore avoid frustrating other members)?
The other element that is blindingly obvious, but yet does get forgotten by people, is the need to lead by example. I’ve been shocked on occasion to encounter leaders of communities that seem to think that being rude to others in the community is their right. It really does ruin it for everyone else so it’s worth taking stock of how best to deal with disagreement and even conflict, but still nurture a productive atmosphere.
So, if you are starting up a community or building an online collaborative project, I would definitely recommend this book. It’s good to hear from someone who has learned from a great deal of experience so you can avoid the common mistakes!