SXSW Interactive 2009 Notes: Building Strong Communities

Here are some key takeaways from the SXSWi presentation on Building Strong Online Communities.

Ken Fisher: Ars Technica
Alexis Ohanian: Mgr of Awesome, reddit.com
Drew Curtis: Fark.com
Erin Kotecki Vest: BlogHer Inc

  • Reddit: put up a wiki and told users to document their own rules of etiquette. Has worked really well, and different communities can develop their own standards.
  • BlogHer: If comments are inappropriate, they are immediately deleted. The poster is notified, and they have the opportunity to modify and report.
  • Reddit: This isn't capital punishment we're talking about, this is just deleting comments.
  • Ars Technica: Have a strict policy of keeping all content, not modifying or deleting. Their users feel that any deleting is censorship.
  • BlogHer: it is so rare that we delete content, it really isn't an issue.
  • BlogHer: We had Michelle Obama blogging, Carly Fianora blogging, and there were tons of posts of people arguing their points back and forth - but in a very civilized way. It was the community guidelines that made this happen.
  • What are some of the things you've seen gone wrong
    • BlogHer: Not informing and involving the community in making changes to community
    • Fark: When you make changes, 20% of the users will complain loudly, and you have to discount that somewhat.
    • Reddit: The vast majority of users are the silent users, who don't post anything, but account for the vast majority of page views. You can do surveys to talk to these people, but somewhat you have to trust your gut.
    • Ars Technica: Surveys are very useful, especially at helping to balance out the vocal minority.
  • Anonymous comments versus registered users:
    • Fark: No anonymous comments, if you can't say something with your name attached, you shouldn't get to post at all.
    • Reddit: Registered users increased the signal to noise ratio. It's better to have two quality comments from registered users, than 14 comments from anonymous coward.
  • What's next?
    • BlogHer: more social networking features.
    • Reddit: More involved in impactful change. Told story of the internet voting on whale name change - internet voted for "Mr. Splashy Pants". Ended up stopping a whale hunting campaign from the amount of media attention.
  • What do you do with the passionate users?
    • BlogHer: "Hire them": pay them to be your moderator (inward focused) or evangalist (outreaching)
    • Ars Technica: Give them special titles on the site. Give them some special capabilities.
    • Reddit: Talk to them. Send them an email and have a discussion about where everyone wants to go.
  • What do you think about moderating for quality?
    • Reddit: We have a really good commenting system so that the crap falls to the bottom. Just download our source code.
  • Reminding the community:
    • BlogHer: every once in a while we have the community manager go and remind the community of not only the rules, but why the rules benefit the community
  • What about big corporations: should they have forums?
    • Ars Technica: Absolutely they should, and they should be thick skinned, expect the criticism, don't be afraid of it.
    • BlogHer: And they should also go to the existing community, then you can engage in it honestly, not as some PR flak.
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