Just in the past year, I have helped launch and manage several online communities, large and small, private and open (I also dissuaded one organisation from launching a network – but that’s another story), and many others have been doing the same. Over a million communities have been created on the Ning platform alone (see 16 April CNet news story) serving 22 million registered users, about 6.1 million of whom are considered active, and about a fifth of the million networks are currently active.
I used Ning to set up a website for Be2camp – a network aimed at practitioners in the architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) and facilities management sector, focused on using Web 2.0 to help build a better, more sustainable built environment. As a result, I have seen at first hand how a website can capture and retain interest from its members. In Be2camp’s case, that interest has also been stimulated by taking discussions offline and holding face-to-face meetings, Tweet-ups and ‘unconferences’ (indeed the next event, Be2camp North, is in Liverpool on 15 May 2009 – register here).
Ning was also used by my friend John Cave when he set up the AECnetwork, but there are alternatives. I have used other simple, low/no-cost platforms (Neeetz, SocialGO) and talked to others who have tested tools such Elgg and Crowdvine, so I am beginning to get a sense of what works well and what doesn’t. However, almost regardless of the technologies deployed, there appear to be some common experiences shared by community creators, and I am trying to collate these into a future blog post – maybe 13 things to think about online communities.
In the meantime, I also want to know about other online communities that people have created or joined, particularly if they are relevant to construction or property professionals. What attracts AEC users, and what turns people away? What features are must-haves, what are nice-to-haves, and what are the turn-offs? How are these networks best promoted? Perhaps out of this, we will then be able to create a list or directory of public AEC online communities to help industry professionals find the right group for them. Use comments to add your suggestions and observations.