Communities, Etc

Hey, before I forget, I’m having a panel tomorrow here at BEA on online communities, and it makes sense that, duh, I’ll talk about Whatever and the community that’s sprung up here. I know what I’m going to say about it, but just in case some of you folks have some thoughts on it — or on online communities in general — drop them into the comment thread. I’ll check this out before I go on the panel and pretend all your smart ideas are my own share your thoughts and wisdom.

23 thoughts on “Communities, Etc

  1. In the last few years since I started reading and commenting, It’s become a daily stop. I look forward to the comments almost as much as your entries(Sorry, John). Witty and intelligent, I’ve come to recognize some of the regular commentators. It often does seem like a local community.
    One thing I’m often struck by as I read about the idiots loose in the world and the comments section is, “These people need to be running this country instead of some of the mentally and morally challenged people that are!
    “nuff said!

  2. “I look forward to the comments almost as much as your entries(Sorry, John).”

    Don’t be sorry. I feel the same way.

  3. One of the things I enjoy about Whatever and other blogs with a ‘core following’ is finding a host who is willing to engage good-naturedly with the readers/commentors and only exerts the “final authority” when some fool Godwinates a thread. (Or commits some other anti-social act such as threatening others or descending into profanity-heavy name-calling.) Also, the fact that the author of the blog occasionally joins in the commenting fun reinforces a ‘dinner party’ atmosphere. It’s your house, but everyone can sit at the grownup table if they act like grownups.

    Obviously having 4 photogenic pets, and 2 cool people (besides your own interesting self) helps. I mean how many authors’ spouses, children, and pets have their own legions of fans? Which leads me back to the dinner party point. What we see of Krissy and Athena are dinner party appropriate vignettes that illustrate why they are ‘teh awesome’. This is a good thing. The inappropriate overshare is a buzzkill in person, via overheard cellphone conversation, or through the Intarwebs.

    So, yeah, if I were going to give advice to people on how to run an online community, I’d go with the dinner party metaphor. You invite a bunch of people, do your best to provide a civil, fun, and engaging atmosphere, and hopefully they ask if they can bring friends the next time.
    (Wow serial commas inside a serial comma offset phrase. Sorry.)

  4. I like online communities because you can easily find and interact with others who share your interests… much more so than you can in the flesh.

    I predict that by 2016, most of the campaigning done by Presidential hopefuls will be done online via blogs and uploads to YouTube.

  5. I’ve always been very impressed by the subtle way you encourage community building here, particularly with the self-pimp threads (which also act as a useful safety valve for those who might get a tad worked up about having some kind of access to the attention of someone famous/successful/cooler) and the “talk amongst yourselves” days. It successfully creates a sense of “Whatever as Destination”.

    And yes, I’m jealous that Brett L got to the dinner party metaphor first.

    Bottom line is I came for you and I stayed for Janeice, Jim, Chang, Nathan and all the rest.

    Have fun at the panel tomorrow – wish I could be there!

  6. Even the best of communities aren’t real unless you meet a few of the members in real life. Fortunately for us, you get out a bit.

  7. Cats and a kid; what’s not to like? :)

    Oh, and the conversations. Discussions of this and that, and done intelligently. With a number of participants having blogs of their own.

    The recent relocation of Tim Blair (Australian trickster and columnist) to space hosted by the Daily Telegraph has led to at least 4 new blogs being established by members of his community. PACO Enterprises’ Che’s Bolivian Diaries: The Lost Episodes are not to be missed.

    So community is not a phenomenon restricted to any one blog. By and large a blog that receives appreciable traffic will have a community form around it. And sometimes that community will go on to start blogs of their own. Which then gather communities around them, and members of that community start blogs of their own. Repeat ad blogenitum. Thus the meme proliferates.

  8. Yes, your little community here even has “break off” communities. (well, at least one) I think the Whatever may be flirting at the critical mass level, and branches are almost inevitable.

    I haven’t been commenting much in the past few months, largely because a second job (magazine editor! w00t!) is consuming my time. Even before that, however, the number of comments begins to get overwhelming.

    I think introducing the Whateveresque was a very good idea, in that the comment section here gets so long that it’s hard to keep up.

  9. I’m pretty new to this on-line community thing. My friend turned me on to the whatever and esque earlier this year. I’ve tried other forums but they get old fast. I like it here it is always changing. Everyone seems nice and I feel free to say what i want. Over at the esque is a awesome world. I’m not smart enough to comment on all the threads but they ALL are interesting and engaging to read.

  10. Maybe this is too late, but I think that one of the very tricky things about online communities is the level of “self-policing.” True, this community is overseen by our benevolent host, but there is also typically a level of civility present here that allows people to have constructive disagreements.

    I’ve participated in other communities where the members have zero self-control and it’s a nightmare. I’ve participated in one (very briefly) where the control of the veteran members was so cruel that they were like bullies on the playground – very clique-ish and nasty.

    The community that I host is currently having one of the most civil debates about abortion that I’ve ever participated in. It’s successful because we respect each other. We reject the idea that online anonymity is an excuse to be an asshat.

  11. Like an iceberg, the commenters are but a fraction of the readers of The Whatever. I know that there are people who read my blog, but I don’t get many commenters — haven’t hit that critical mass or hit the sweet spot of postings which generate such.

    So there is always going to be a lot more nodding heads and shaking heads out there in the world than you’ll see in the comments section. Kind of like democracy — a few people choose to make all the noise, but the vast silence can be deafening. (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  12. Community building on a site that’s not explicitly built for community (e.g., it’s not a forum) is difficult. You go beyond the typical blogger and interact well with your audience—most of the rest of the bloggers are limited to “well, what do you think of X?” at the end of a post, even the top bloggers.

    Is it respect for folks? Partly that. It’s also because you’re pretty down-to-earth sensible and definitely not afraid of confrontation—those are two strong traits of a community leader that leads to a good community. Lack of either one results in either no community or a degenerate one—even in forum-based communities.

    I last saw those traits in Warren Ellis—though he had to rule over a forum of comic geeks, so he had a harder time of it.

    Places with civil discussions on the ‘net are difficult to find. You stop the trolls before they reach critical mass, and also those who I think of as the “sane” people have been encouraged to speak out—and thus the number of people who talk and are sane outnumber those who talk and are stupid. This is not the way in a lot of other communities, who are basically sane but have a quiet population that lets the trolls take over.

    In many ways you’ve achieved (and it’s taken to do it) a rare success story on the ‘net. Many congratulations on that.

  13. What’s nice about online communities is that they allow you to make new virtual friends.

    There are many I have met here and one Whateveresque who I now consider good friends, and I care about what happens to them.

    However, the problem with popular blogs is that some comment threads can get overwhelming quickly, and when I don’t have down time, I don’t even try to participate, because the number of comments is immediately overwhelming.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m not reading along at home.

  14. What Brett L. said. The best online communities are dinner parties where everyone tacitly agrees to be cool with each other. If someone’s being a dick, you can go to another part of the party (ie ignore their comments or go to another thread). If said dick continues with the dickery, then it’s up to the host to give him a polite reminder to knock it off, or boot him outright, no matter how much the dick howls about free speech. Dude, the speech may be free but the web hosting isn’t.

  15. Several folks have mentioned community standards and careful moderation, but I wanted to emphasize the importance of the change from publicly shared spaces (like Usenet) to privately-owned spaces (like blogs). In the former, the best you could do is set your software to ignore certain obnoxious posters. In the latter, you have control of the tone and content of the conversations in your space.

    There are many people out there who want to talk about subjects they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing in a public space but can discuss in a “private” one [1]. The downside is that individuals can get caught in an echo chamber and never hear differing opinions, but that’s the individual’s choice.

    It’s a big change and a welcome one.

    [1]In this instance, “private” doesn’t mean “secret” it means “controlled by the owner and not reliant on group policing.

  16. Participation and interaction I think are key to a successful online community. Your constant interaction and overall humor and wit keeps us coming back to Whatever and over at Whateveresque it is the interaction of the members that keeps things moving over there.
    If I haven’t thanked you for Whateveresque I will now. It completely rocks and I enjoy it a whole lot!

  17. There are ‘Online Communities’, and then there is ‘Online *as* Community’.

    I read blogs during lunch at work. I’ve found information, topics for thought, and some really fine authors by jumping from one blog to the next. I keep a clock adjacent to the monitor so don’t I get lost in the ‘net & go over my lunch hour. :)

    I read my best friend’s blog, who put me on to Wil Wheaton’s blog. I found Whatever by clicking a link from Wil’s blog. (I bought some books, too, oh-great-scalzi) I’ve gone to other blogs from Whatever, as well, and added them to the list of ‘places to visit’ during lunch, & ‘authors to read’. I absolutely adore ‘The Big Idea’, as it lead me to authors I might not have heard of otherwise.

    I’ve posted on Whatever, joined Whatevesque and am enjoying the whole online as community thing. I feel better informed as a result, as well as entertained daily. I enjoy reading other people’s comments in response to John’s comments on his blog, as well as John’s occassional comments on other people’s comments.

    Hey – does an email list also count as an online comminity? If so, I have some seperate comments about that, too.

  18. Online communities are pretty much like real life communities. Most are total whack jobs that need to get a life. Natually the ones I like are all thoughtful and hard working people just like me. No, really.

  19. Interesting how many of the ideas orbit around social engineering concepts. But what else is there? I dunno.

    One thing that has always fascinated me while moderating Hell was the degree to which the regular denizens of a particular online space tend to be self-selecting (after some threshold web-magnetism level where a steady supply of new eyes tends to wander by). The trick seems to be in tweaking the virtual dinner party to encourage the self-selection – and corresponding self-rejection.

    Which, really, is just restating what you’ve all already said. Yay me: I belong! Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself.

  20. John,
    I attended the panel today at BEA. I just wanted to touch base and tell you that I enjoyed what you had to offer. Actually, reading all these comments has been very informative as well.
    As a relative newbie in the blogging and social media world, I am on the steep learning curve. I need all the help I can get!
    I will be following along for all the words of wisdom, sarcasm, and your benelovence while ruling.
    Thanks for showing up and being a part of a great conversation.

    Renee (booklover)
    ijustfinished.com

  21. I love peeking over the gate and eavesdropping here. I got hooked on John when he wrote “By The Way”, but all of you here are great reads too.

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