We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
That’s the preamble of the US Constitution, and it’s a great thing to think about when you’re talking about launching a community. It clearly sets out what the community is for, and creates a simple, concise vision of what it can be measured against…
…to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…
Communities need constitutions. People who join the community need to be able to go somewhere and understand what the community is for – and what the rules are. People who sponsor (pay for them with money or labor) communities need to have some kind of benchmark to validate why they are spending their time and money, and a way of measuring whether the community is meeting that need.
Both of these are critical to the success of communities. Let’s first look at it from the point of view of someone who may join a community; most people join organically – i.e. they don’t read the TOS or evaluate vision statements. But they do look at the content and gauge the ‘flavor’ of the community. And how do you as a community guide, moderator or sponsor help shape that behavior? What do you point people to when you try and correct what you see as inappropriate behavior? Well, wouldn’t it help to have something you can show them that makes it clear what you expect? And what the rules are for how you’ll deal with them?
Now let’s look from the point of view of the community manager. You face two masters – the members of your community, who want to know you’re playing fair and what rules you’re playing by – and whoever it is (and it might be you) who is sponsoring the community project (note that as above, ‘sponsoring’ can include devoting time or money).
The core question is ‘why am I building community at all?’, and ‘why this community?’ Those are important, because it’s perfectly possible to build a thriving community – but have it be a failure anyway, because the community’s rationale has nothing to do with – or is even opposed to – the rationale under which the community sponsor greenlighted it.
So in planning for a community, I’ll suggest strongly (insist, if you’re one of my clients) that a concise ‘constitution’ be drafted – so that we can think hard about whether it is likely to a) be interesting and valuable to the people we’d like to be in the community; and b) be useful and valuable to whoever is writing the checks.
I’m not just talking about ‘commercial’ communities here; communities of common interest, political communities, communities of fans – all of them have ‘sponsors’ even if those sponsors are loaning the community space on a server and bandwidth, and if the community was crafted and is being moderated as a labor of love.