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How communities prosper/last

It is not strong individual leadership (facilitator, moderator, etc) that sustains community but rather the continuing commitment of a group of people who have seriously taken into their heart the love for the community and what it stands for. Invariably, there will be many “members” who would claim to be members of a particular community. It is only a few, however, who will be there almost all the time getting the business of the community going.

A good model in life is the organization known as Opus Dei which has members defined at different levels. In a way, the people at the core (which in their case are called Numeraries) are the ones who are really “running” the community. There are those who are at the periphery, like cooperators or in some communities are considered simply “friends of the community.” I would consider those who are a the core of any on-line communities as people who are totally committed to it while those who are lurking as similar to the cooperators, supporters or “friends of” the community.

While the superficial problem at the lower end has been described by Christopher Johnson as “greatest problem with virtual communities is withdrawing, or attrition” and which he suggests “can be reduced somewhat through good facilitation techniques and adequate scaffolding, especially in the cases of online communication techniques and technical support,” the deeper concern that communities face is that of getting people to upgrade their commitment from “lurkers” to core members. The more core members, the stronger the community.

Now, some will suggest that technology is a problem or a big concern. In a way it is… because an online community has to go online. In another sense it is not, in that it will always benefit from improvements in the platform provided by any technology. As in real life, the only critical 3-angeled question that should be asked of any aspiring technology is “is it better (easier to work with), cheaper, and faster?”.


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