The second unconference session was initiated by Aliza Sherman as a result of the communities panel from Friday, where there was not enough time to talk about how and why communities die / break-up / fade away. Everyone around the circle had at least one experience to discuss about an online community falling apart.
Even something as simple as changing meeting locations can disrupt a "first life" community. I was part of a group that met at a high school and then shifted to a community center and then to a church, and each time the participants and tone of the group changed. With online communities, it's possible that even small changes can do the same thing, since there is much less direct human contact to moderate the impact of the change: new designs, new layouts, an influx of members.
Every community has a tone and sense of itself - an essence. This is dependent on many factors from the participants and their history. Anything that impacts the community is going to impact that tone, which then impacts the people who participate in the community.
Communities naturally change over time. Some have short life-spans, some long. Some get really busy around an event and then go quiet. The issue in the discussion was those BIG events in the life of a community: a shift to money-making; acquisition; leadership squabbles; the community leader shifts their attention. The options are that the community will die, or that it will change in response to the stimuli.
What will give the community the best chance to survive these big events? The obvious - but not always practiced - answer seems to be to be prepared. Do you know something is coming? Wouldn't it make sense to work with the community to let the know and be prepared.
This is exactly the case for one of the participants in the discussion. She's working with an online magazine that has an associated community. The magazine has been dormant, and the community has been slowly fading. But the magazine is due to re-launch, which will bring many new people into the community, a guaranteed "shock" to the system. Why not jump into the existing community and prepare them? Give them some idea of what to expect. Let them know why it is important. Suggest ways in which the changes are going to be both positive and negative. Invite some of the existing community members to be ambassadors for the newcomers.
Other tidbits from this session
"Giving the community the power to create, also means they have the power to destroy," (paraphrasing Aliza). There is a lot of value in distributing the "work" of maintaining a community, so it makes sense to let this happen. But those same people can undo a lot if the "powers that be" damage the relationship. I was in a YahooGroup, where the owner decided one day to simply delete the group with no warning and no opportunity to take the mailing list somewhere new.
Curious: I wonder if the idea of "following" people has come into currency since Twitter, or if that wording has been used previously. Whenever I hear it now, I can't help think of Twitter.
Lurker defined: "legitimate peripheral participant," thanks to Shannon McKarney. I like it!
Does a community move with the person who started it? Or does it become so well-established that it can survive without its "parent."
"People don't buy drills for the quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole" (familiar saying about marketing). In fact, what they really want is a bird house. And even more, they want the emotion tied to the idea of having a bird house, whether it is decoration or attracting birds in the backyard. People don't join online communities to deal with the technology or banter about Topic X. They want a connection to other people who share the same interests.