What makes these communities different from the one that did not succeed?
Here a few learnings:
1. the community already exists, you just create a communication platform for it
2. make it clear what the community is about [positioning/marketing]
3. make sure the communication/content is interesting [quality]
4. make sure there is enough engagement [perceived critical mass] (encourage people to post, post yourself a lot, fake accounts if needed, only create subforums once the main ones are noisy)
5. have a rhythm - some communities need daily good posts, some live of the weekly newsletter
That gave me a minor epiphany, it flipped my understanding of communities and their relation to tech.
The point of it of course is that, if such a proto community doesn't exist, its going to be very difficult for a community to grow.
I've read the Reddit origin story of founders submitting content under several usernames to give the appearance of a forming community, while also dictating the initial content and therefore the audience and culture.
Could you give some examples on communities with successful positioning/marketing?
- PR and relationships with (governmental or other) organisations
- Intelligent positioning
- (Arguably good timing in the market)
- Community well targeted, needs catered for well.
- Appropriate (simple, fast) technology, little barrier to entry
- Two way beneficial relationship with YC
- Careful / Aggressive (depending on situation and feature) moderation
- General (although arguably slipping into Eternal September) maintenance of a niche community but with steady growth
A thing that stands out to me is that it worked at every size.
On day one, it was just the Odeo team that Twitter ended up spinning out of, maybe 15 people. And it worked that way as a group messaging thread where we felt more connected to the people we worked with.
Then we let in close friends and family with a stern warning from our CEO not to let anyone from Google see it. So that was 50 people and maybe each of us had 3-4 close friends on the platform.
To someone else's point that the community already exists, you're just building the communication platform: this was still when Facebook was locked down. I invited in close family (existing community) and learned stuff about them that sounds trivial but was meaningful to me (communication platform).
Then the community ballooned again to maybe 500 people and suddenly there were interesting tech luminaries to follow.
And on and on.
Also, nobody actually thought Twitter was definitely a hit. We just thought Odeo was not working and that Twitter was worth continuing to explore.
Re: regret. People misunderstand the regret of not continuing to have stock. Twitter was nothing when we left. I didn't even bother to exercise my options. Then Odeo's CEO bought out all the investors and that return on their money was way more than whatever Twitter was worth at the time. Those investors were all using Twitter, so they knew what they were getting bought out of. But it was still basically nothing at that point, a few hundred users.
The things that made Twitter valuable were what happened after Odeo. Evan Williams bought the whole thing back and then relaunched it as a new company with funding from him and a new equity structure. Imagine if Jack & Biz had "co-founded" Twitter but had to stay on their existing Odeo option grants which were probably less than 0.5%. So just that alone was big.
Twitter had a solid year of grinding where it looked and felt just like every other nascent startup, i.e. worth continuing but not at all a sure thing. To me, the game changer was the way Biz managed to start making Twitter part of the media landscape and something everyone heard about on every half hour segment of cable news. Twitter basically became a core part of the internet at that point.
So Odeo people probably all have some amount of regret (I quit and then refused an offer to come back). But I don't think anyone really feels like they were entitled to the money or credit.
I've always hated those segments. It makes me strangely happy to hear that the cause and effect here was indeed backwards; cable news didn't start reading those tweets because twitter was important, twitter became important because cable news started reading those tweets!
The hugely successful SWSX campaign moved Twitter out of the tech-only sphere into other areas. That got non-tech people using it, but by the time of the time of the Aston Kutcher vs CNN race to a million followers (less than 2 years later) it already had its own momentum.
2. Be really hands on with identifying, engaging with, and empowering the best community members. Typically, this would mean giving them some sort of moderation powers and/or giving them access to some sort of "backchannel" (ie, a mods-only chat or forum) in which they can be a part of the discussions where you discuss community direction.
In general, treat your small (initial) size as an asset. Your community cannot represent a Stack Overflow-sized massive knowledge base.
So, what can you offer that a large existing community cannot? Chiefly, this would be an ability for members to get in on the ground floor and shape the direction of the community while having a direct line of communication to the founder(s).
Hands-on communication with a community founder can really reach people. Think about what it would mean for Paul Graham to reach out to you personally in response to an HN comment you made. In the early stages of your community, you can be the founder and make those connections.
Worth noting I think that Stack Overflow started (relatively) small itself, and that it followed your two points. The membership "seeding" was the readers of Jeff and Joel's blogs. Both of them, Jeff and Joel, were very visible and active at least in the meta aspects of the site. Jeff in particular was happy to discuss how the site worked or should work with anyone who was interested.
I think you're right that these are key elements.
They also had a really good podcast going as they were developing it.
And a good 'bad guy' too, the site with a dash (experts-exchange).
Your community cannot represent a Stack Overflow-sized
massive knowledge base.
Your community cannot IMMEDIATELY represent a Stack
Overflow-sized, massive knowledge base.
"Nearly every challenge of building a community can be met by asking yourself, “How do I achieve this by working with my people, not doing it for them?” In other words, approach community-building as progressive acts of collaboration—doing more with others every step of the way.
The throughline of our book is this simple concept: “build with.” It lives in each of the recommendations we make as we take you through three stages of building a community: sparking the flame, stoking the fire, and passing the torch. "
Once I found its content in a series of PDFs in the authors page, but didn't manage to find it now.
You have a minefield to pick through and compromises to make. Each choice is a tradeoff and you may find that getting what you want can kill the goose that laid the golden eggs.
Think of the places you used to hang out online. Why aren't you there anymore? Remember the other people you really liked there: why did they leave before you did?
Fake it until you make it.
I believe reddit did the same.
Welcoming new members from other sites is always a good move.
If I remember correctly it had to do with its UI redesign rather than favouring big publication?
The last time this came up I couldn't share the email thread because PrettyFWD didn't yet exist.
I remember that was how plentyoffish started.
Depending on the type of community you need to jumpstart, intentionally leave off commenting as a feature in the very early beginning if you can. For example if you're starting a Reddit-like site of link posting and voting. While the comments will drive the community later, the comment system reveals the sockpuppets have no souls. Alternatively of course just try to post as many stray comments as you can, the problem is that's extremely time consuming at any scale.
Also shorten the amount of content shown on the front page. So for example once your community is very successful, using Reddit as the example again, you might expand how many posts you show on the frontpage to 30. In the beginning, start it at 10, 12 or 15. That way if you need to post via sockpuppets, doing 20 or 30 links per day will properly fill the frontpage and then some.
The approach I last used to sockpuppet start a community, was to create ~300-400 or so fake user accounts, then have a posting system that takes content I want to post, and randomly stack load the content to be posted into the future (add in some forced shake to the random so it's not too obvious what the posting time thresholds are). Run a job against that, when the next piece of content is ready to be posted assign a stray sockpuppet account to 'post' it. The reason for the stack loading, is so you can do all the content posting for a day, or multiple days, in one rush to optimize the time you're spending; so you can load up 30 or 90 posts in one go and the system will jigger the timing between them for when they get publicly posted, so it seems natural.
In my case I also had voting on the content and used a decaying approach to the scores (so content scores melt, cycling the content off the frontpage, comparable to a Reddit or HN approach). I put together an approach where each sockpuppet piece of content had a preordained max score that would be reached over the course of three days at a declining rate of voting (eg day one the content gets 75% of its max votes; day two it gets 20%; day three it gets 5%). Then I added a job that throws a random stray vote against any piece of content in the system every N amount of time to add some more projected fake activity into the system. As necessary it's pretty trivial to simulate each sockpuppet doing the fake voting as well, if you need to show sockpuppet activity on a profile page or such. Some sockpuppet content would randomly receive very low preordained vote scores (1 in 10 posts or similar), eg 0 to 5 votes as the max outcome, so that not all content would seem popular.
I made a possessor sockpuppet account, so that if I logged into that super account, on each page load it would put me into the shoes of a different sockpuppet account, so I could browse around the site leaving comments or doing any manual behavior and each action would go to a different sockpuppet without having to log in / out constantly. That further sped up manual intervention actions I had to take to boost the appearance of human activity.
Finally there was an ability to follow other users and get a feed from that (of their posts). So I simulated sockpuppets following and unfollowing eachother. That was annoying to get right but not terribly difficult and it works well as a good simulation that there is human activity on the site.
Naturally you probably - depending on the community - don't have to fool highly observant tech engineers, you have to fool average users that have no idea about the technical aspect of simulating something like this.
1) Somehow I met someone who is also passionate about the domain (online, friend recommendation kr meetup)
2) Create a meetup for the subject and have me and the other the speakers while finding a sponsor or two (not as hard as you think)
3) The meetup grows to a monthly meetup and a social media group gets created.
4) Sometimes a website is needed for mailing lists, blog posts and announcments.
Some don't last very long as they are based off a trend (Blockchain for example) and some have survived until today.
To grow, my friends and I just started posting and chatting.
Personally, I think commercialization is antithetical to some types of communities. I wrote this post titled "The social aggregator is a terrible business model" a few years ago: https://hubski.com/pub/219234
1. A topic that hasn't been tapped into that much, but which has an existing audience just waiting to get involved. This was the case with Wario Forums, which had no competition whatsoever when it launched, and was started pretty much because myself and a few others in the fandom wanted a forum about the series and were willing to help get one off the ground.
2. An awful lot of dedication to the field from its founder. It's a cliche now, but forums and communities in general are usually not built in a day/week/month. So the founder needs to be super dedicated to the subject area, and willing to put in potentially weeks of unpaid work getting the site off the ground.
3. Unique and interesting content about the topic. Again, this was pretty easy for me on Wario Forums, the people I invited had experience translating games from Japanese, creating remixes of the music, making mods and level editors, etc, and I had a lot of knowledge of the series and what kinds of discussions would be interesting to a fan.
But yeah, this is where the whole 'passion' aspect comes in again. If you're not absolutely fanatical about the subject and don't possess a lot of knowledge about it, you'll struggle to create anything interesting enough to get people to join/take notice.
Seriously though, I'd recommend you check out some of the articles about this topic on sites like The Admin Zone, Feverbee and Managing Communities if you need some more in depth advice on the subject:
> and willing to put in potentially weeks of unpaid work getting the site off the ground.
To a minimum of six months as an assumed grind. Anybody going into building a community should regard that as the absolute minimum. Sometimes you get lucky and lightning hits, however more often you're going to struggle along for many painfully dry months trying to get a self-sustaining momentum rolling.
It's called VC3 (https://vc3.club) and it's an exercise in seeing if I can build a successful online community. If it succeeds, its sole purpose is to discuss and debate the forming of online communities (like VC3 itself.)
We haven't launched yet (because we're trying to get a solid group of people before we start.) If you find these sorts of questions interesting, please join us! It's totally free, not trying to make money with this.
Marketing is an important part of any business, so fair play to him.
Create a community and be the largest contributor for the community
Ie reddit, 9gag, dev.to, medium etc.
There are definitely "more natural" communities like HackerNoon, Repl.it, etc but they grow more slowly and rely on at least some measure of luck to get the snowball rolling.
One thing that does work is maintaining a critical mass of "influencers". Likeable people who post high quality content with predictable regularity ;)
Observable is one community I follow. I think a lot of people had the idea to create of network of Jupyter / Collab notebooks (like Tableau's Gallery). But few have gained mainstream reach outside of their niche
ps Observable is hiring in SF!
Also a lot of the community forums were bought by investors that saw advertising dollar signs but didn't know how to actually run anything (issues with portions of the CMS / forums / etc breaking down) so that could also have to do with it.
Then organize them using software that stays in their day to day workflow like an email list or social media group. Despite its shortcomings, I used Facebook groups and it works kind of well.
Then link to, market, and promote your group wherever appropriate. Ours is still approval-based to keep the quality high and the users engaged.
You don't start at zero. You start at one (yourself).
If you're trying to start at zero, that means you yourself don't believe in your own community, and you're doomed to fail.
You also need at least one other person who shares your values and/or interests. A "true fan", so to speak. https://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_moveme...
1. Doing things that don't scale. We have a community of fans following local scores and we wanted to get people to crowdsource scores. Initially that meant us seeding the community and then finding ways to onboard folks to scoring games.
2. There was an existing community of people who cared about local sports and with the death of newspapers we thought there was a chance to get them to crowdsource and share the information with others.
3. We made a lot of tools that created incentives for folks to score games and share that information with others.
4. We did a lot of partnerships with potential consumers of the score data which made an incentive for folks to share scores to highlight their teams.
Ultimately one thing that we thought that would motivate people was money, fame and narcissism and since we didn't have a lot of money we focused on the other two.
It's been fun seeing it grow and there are a ton of other good thoughts from others in this post. Thanks for posting...great to see others experience.
a blank line in between two paragraphs or items.
"The Culting of Brands"
Blueprint for Revolution (as mentioned in Adam Grant's Originals)
Tribes by Seth Godin
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements
I've read the first three. The fourth is on my short list. The common theme? Start in a tight niche and establish a core of "fanatics". With a niche and a core your odds of traction and sustainability drop off.
If it helps, use any major religion as a reference point. That is, Christianity wasn't always the dominate (?) force it is today. But it started very small and tight.
A community isn't much different. Perhaps less extreme (?), but the same basic elements remain.
Here are the consistent elements I’ve seen across virtually any kind of community that’s starting out.
1) a community begins when two people who are passionate about a purpose meet together. They don’t need to be captains of industry, or politicians. They just need to be passionate about some unifying thing.
2) The “Big Bang” moment for a community is its first event. The best way for these types of people to meet is by attending events (virtual or in person). Events are human connections at scale.
Examples: Up/down-vote, flag, push down posts with a lot of discussions without new up-votes, republish posts that gets votes late...
“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”
All joking a salad, communities imo just occur, though their concentration can perhaps be affected or enabled. Conceptually similar to a market I think.
 - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18050143-zero-to-one
You've gotta be hands-on and engage with all the members, listen to them, especially over small things (what's nothing to you is a potential deal breaker for them) You gotta post, keep the discussion going, start the discussion etc.
Reasons I've seen communities die 1, incompetent/not bothered admins and 2, micro management. So many admins become mini-Hitlers when they have a little bit of 'power'.
Most importantly though is community, your users will stick with you through the worst buggy code so long as you show that you care about them.
1.1 Define / finalize plan and deployment timeline
1.2 Identify community leaders
2.1. Define community best practices
2.2. Train community leaders
3. Kickstart community
3.1. Collect seed content with group of community leaders (e.g. repeating topics, questions, anything that resonates and is searched or discussed often)
3.2. Seed community platform with output of 3.1.
3.3. Open site to kickstart users; a cross-section of your target audience but in smaller amounts.
3.4. Let kickstart users expand community, both in content as well as being relaxed with them onboarding new members
3.5. Promote coming community to entire target audience
4. Full launch
4.1. Open site to entire target audience
4.2. continue promotion
5. Grow community
5.1. Monitor community usage, evaluate, expand
5.2. ongoing promotion