by Viktor Grant
Note: this Report was written in 1998 and updated in 2006. It contains Excerpts from the Book "Net Gain" by John Hagel III and Arthur G. Armstrong - publ 1997 and appear italicized in this report. Author's Note: My primary points are emphasized in larger font.
What is a Virtual Community?
"We know the rules of community, we know the healing effect of community in terms of individual lives. If we could somehow find a way across the bridge of our knowledge, would not these same rules have a healing effect upon our world? - It is our task - our essential, central, crucial task - to transform ourselves from mere social creatures into community creatures. It is the only way that human evolution will be able to proceed." - M. Scott Peck
In the book, "Creating Community Anywhere", by Carolyn R. Shaffer and Kristen Anundsen, they define "community" as a dynamic whole that emerges when a group of people:
- Participate in common practices;
- Depend upon one another;
- Make decisions together;
- Identify themselves as part of something larger than their individual relationships;
- Commit themselves for the long term to their own and the group's well-being.
The key to success in a virtual world is having a goal that serves the whole coupled with the ability to self-regulate your own degree of privacy in a safe environment. This is what could be called the Online Factor. The moment you go online you are vulnerable. Whatever you say or do can be instantly duplicated and transmitted to thousands of people within seconds and then passed on again and again.
Successful online communities require that each member be accountable for their thoughts and actions.
Seemingly "random" chat rooms abound on the Internet, however they do not possess the glue that holds the community together. The social glue has to do with people inter-depending on one another - and the asset is really not who you are in "real life" but how influential and beneficial your virtual identity is to the members of the community.
You can change your identity, however with that you also lose the credibility you built up over the time since you started your virtual identity. The social glue is critical to success in the virtual community.
UniquenessThe next crucial element is that each member must be unique. This allows each member to create a "place" within their community that is recognized. Uniqueness creates value. The value-added creation of digital assets escalates with desirability and find-ability. Allowing members to exchange ownership of digital assets between them promotes growth and sustainability in the community.
The key to all of these systems is to provide a secure way to identify the members of the community, and in turn allow the members of the community to self-regulate.
Technology: The Digital Canvas
The canvas on which you paint your virtual identity is made up of technology. This technology is provided by the community builder or organizer. By giving your community members the ability to regulate their own degrees of privacy, you create a glue that holds the community together.
These technologies include, but are not limited to:
- Chat Rooms
- Instant Messaging Systems
- Scheduling Services
- Information Services
- Online workshops and seminars
- Special Events
- Contents and Giveaways
- Exchange Systems
- Social Architecture
- Collaborative Tools
- Push Technologies
- Online "Groupware"
- Virtual Reality Worlds and Games
- On-demand infotainment
- Electronic Publishing
- User tracking
- Advanced Security Systems
- Aggregation Tools
What is the next logical evolution of online services?
Give the power of creating back to the customer. Build your own online service WITHIN our online service WITHIN our multi-platform network of media distribution and do it without having to own, lease or buy anything from anybody.
Run the operation from anyone else's computer with complete security and satisfaction that what you create is yours and what others create is theirs. Then allow members to co-create digital assets with other members.
Rather than the media company being the content creator, "the members" are the content creators. That puts the role of the media company to that of an editor, producer, promoter and most of all "indexer" Its job is not to control content, nor is it to create content. Its job is to organize, index and distribute content by "narrowcasting" rather than broadcasting, where the access and availability of information has greater value than the information itself. Build the community and commerce will follow.
"Digital life will include very little real-time broadcast. As broadcast becomes digital, the bits are not only easily time-shiftable but need not be received in the same order or same rate as they will be consumed-On-demand information will dominate digital life. We will ask explicitly and implicitly for what we want, when we want it." - Nicholas Negroponte, MIT
The problem is: most people don't know what they want.
This is one of the core problems community builders must solve. By having a community of people who know what they want (and are getting it), and having them online as role models, consultants, advisors, the people who don't know what they want will start to make intuitive choices.
You can't want something if you don't even know you're missing it. The easiest way to get people to want something is to show them others who are already doing it.
That simple concept will grow the community faster and farther than any other.
So then the focus does not become in anticipating the consumer's needs. The problem becomes instead, how to get enough interesting "models" or what are called in the online world "hosts" that have enough credibility and interesting lives that they're willing to share with others. Guide members to their own choices and the community will flourish.
Give members access to enable other members' choices.
The technology, therefore has to be enabling rather than controlling, it has to be inviting rather than pushing. It has to be suggestive, but remain open. The challenge, therefore is not only with the quality of the technology or the software or the programming.
It is with the consciousness of the software designers.
The answer in how to build the "mother of all communities" is with core teams of visionaries as designers (who are naturally gifted and have gone thorough spiritual preparation for their task) + programmers (who have an intuitive sense of how to implement the vision of the designers ) = better software to run communities.
The Tao of Online Communities
Gather together bright, aware, conscious people to work on the project to be online leaders and guide members into uncharted territories.The way is this: be watchful, vigilant, aware of multiple things going on the same time, be mindful. A few excerpts from 'Net Gain' illustrate this point perfectly:
Organizational design metaphors in a virtual community are more "seeding, feeding and weeding" than detailed blueprints and plans. In the online world, the key secret is to begin it, create as much interaction between members as quickly as possible, and then evaluate.
Virtual communities are not, ultimately, about aggregating information and other kinds of resources, although they certainly do that.
Virtual communities are about aggregating people. People are drawn into virtual communities because they provide a rich engaging environment in which to connect with other people. As they interact, transact and disseminate their own views, they build feelings of trust, insight and security. The strength of virtual communities is in their ability to address multiple needs simultaneously.
How does a virtual community work?
The reality behind virtual communities is that they are clusters of niche special interest groups. Like physical communities, they have few leaders, many "watchers" and a few participants. The most successful virtual communities today have attempted to model existing social order models that are in use today. The core principles in most communities model the beliefs that the founders of the community have, thus so far.
To start with you have the Founding members or actual founders of the community. These figures possess the greatest influence over the group itself. These people are the social role models that are mentioned earlier.
Rather than imposing a set of dogmatic principles or beliefs, community organizers must instead provide a structure, provide rules of conduct and consequences for "disobeying" rules of conduct, thus creating a balance between order and chaos.
The members must be allowed to discover their own beliefs and allowed to explore which of the sub-communities they feel most "at home with"
Starting The Virtual Community
Before your community can exist, you first have to give people an incentive to join.
You must create a critical mass of founding members who have agreed to be the role models for the community to follow. These founding members, through their words and wisdom, form the basis of the online community.
Together with this comes the first and foremost responsibility of these role models to be in high integrity with each other. In order to keep the founding members together, you must give them special privileges that regular members don't have.
Moderating Online Virtual Communities
There is a critical nonlinear formula for human relationships that must be addressed. In other words, you will need moderators in proportion to the number of simultaneously connecting people you have online.
This crucial factor is overlooked by many of the current online services and Internet web sites.
The more members you have, the more moderators you will need. Some of the members will evolve into moderators, and some of the moderators will evolve to be managers.
Each position you hold up the scale from the moment you walk in the door to the online service is that you have the potential to be the one at the top. You can go as far and as high within the community organization as the OTHER community members are willing to let you go. It really has nothing to do with corporate or company appointments.
The software required to create the community has to be specifically designed for human resource management in such a way that it encourages leaders to be willing to move out of their positions dynamically, and instantly.
At the same time, in doing so, you give every person who is a member of the community the opportunity to create their dreams.
And by giving people the power to create their dream jobs, dream lifestyle and be leaders of thousands and even millions of people, you give them a gift that nothing in the world as we know it has achieved.
People in virtual communities help each other.
There is no faster way on the planet to exert influence in the history of the world.
To be the creator of the community requires the highest degree of compassion, humility, gratitude, understanding and amazement.
Virtual communities are the next level of human evolution.
One quarter of the population of the United States lives alone. In the past millennium, we've moved from a community driven culture to a separatist culture, by in large.
Because we are separated by distance all over the planet, and most of our lifestyles and occupations don't allow us to extend into large groups of people on a consistent basis, our "global reach" becomes limited within our own geographic boundaries.
However, human beings possess the innate ability to align thought and feeling across the boundaries of time and space. Virtual communities help people reacquire these forgotten abilities.
Inspiration is the fuel that drives virtual communities.
The key to exploiting the new market opportunities in on-line networks are through combining content and communication. Internet users are expected to increase to well over 100 million by the millennium. While companies have developed web sites to distribute and merchandise products, rarely do these sites encourage communication between visitors to the site.
Commercial success in the on-line arena will belong to those who organize virtual communities to meet multiple social and commercial needs. It is to your advantage to be among the first to begin to plan your virtual community now. Once the market really begins to take off, it will become increasingly difficult and expensive to catch up with market leaders.
Five defining elements of Virtual Communities
- Distinctive Focus - Virtual communities are identified by a specific focus, to help potential members readily understand what resources are available within each community.
- Content and Communication Integration - Virtual communities provide a broad range of published content consistent with the focus of the community.
- Member-generated Content - Virtual communities provide environments for the general dissemination of content that was produced online by its membership.
- Access to publishers and vendors - Virtual communities are aggregators of products and service by competitors and affiliates.
- Commercial orientation - Virtual communities will increasingly be organized as commercial enterprises by providing members with valuable resources and environments that enhance the members' own power. Members will value this power and richly reward their community organizers that deliver it to them most effectively.
Three key ingredients to empower members
- Tools - Members must be given the tools to communicate, organize, produce and disseminate their own content and interact with the other community members.
- Opportunity - Members must have access to a broad range of choices so that they can move throughout the network and decide what information, products or services are most interesting to them.
- Value - Members must be given a chance to describe and define their individual role within the community. This value allows members to find other members of like mind and provides vital demographic and psychographic information to the community organizers.