Building Quality Communities

I push my clients hard on the issue of active engagement and moderation as a way of setting tone – and elevating quality – in communities.

A great article today in Slate talks about what that looks like when it works:

Why is the Internet the place where civil discussion goes to die? It must be something in the tubes. Before there even was a mainstream Internet, in 1990, Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Mike Godwin coined Godwin’s Law: “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” If you put a group of slightly asocial, opinionated people behind usernames, the conversation descends into flame wars and miscellaneous insanity.

And everyone who had led communities knows what that’s like…but with a lot of effort,


Quality as a Community Metric

Because real community ROI can be hard to measure (so we use proxies for it like cost-per-impression comparisons with advertising, or offsets for physical event costs), we often tend to measure the ‘health’ of our communities by the level of activity.

New members, posts-per-member, churn (new members – members who are inactive or quit) are fairly typical metrics that I’ve used in looking at communities.

But for myself, I’ve also been obsessed with ‘quality’ as a community metric; both in terms of how ‘upward-norming’ the community is, and how well the community fulfills the intent of the community sponsor. I’m not sure how to quantify it, but I think we all know it when we see it.

‘Upward-norming’ is simple; it’s the willingness of community members themselves to intervene and react to typical online bad behavior;


The Business of the Social Graph

One issue that I’ve been paying close attention to is the rise of the ‘portable social graph‘, which I’ll define as the ability to extract metadata about who you connect with online – both listing your ‘friends’ and contacts, and potentially doing a traffic analysis on the communication within this network.

Combined with a ‘portable attention graph‘ which begins to map what you look at online and gather similar metadata about your individual behaviors, new technologies offer unparalleled opportunities to do useful (and highly valuable – very highly valuable) behavioral mapping and targeting.

Now these emerging tools have value to me as a web user, to be sure. They allow strong recommendation engines, targeted content (including advertising), and allow me to function better in an economy where attention is a scarce commodity.