On Communities

After building community sites for a while by now I think I have grasped the social dynamics blueprint of community sites to some degree. For example: most community-centered sites are starting out small (naturally), then gathering a relatively small loyal following (#1), then gaining momentum (#2), attracting more and more regulars (#3) and – after a while – die (#4). The circle of life, so to speak. But the devil’s in the details. Let’s take a look at how it works (according to me):

  1. The small loyal following. People find the site through different channels; they like the concept, the idea, identify with it and decide to stick to it. Everyone knows everyone else, fuzzy feelings ensue, good place to hang out.
  2. Gaining momentum. The regulars tell their friends who come to check it out, are heartily welcomed by the existing users who like to see their beloved site to bloom. They believe in the site for a number of reason, that’s why they hang out there all the time. There’s a feeling of going forward, of reaching out to the sky.
  3. Attracting more and more regulars. Too many people to know everyone, the old sense of community is somewhat lost in the site’s process of growing. With the flood of new people joining there are a couple of black sheep (read: trolls and fuckwads) who get an utterly moronic kick out of annoying people for one reason or the other.
  4. Death of the site. The oldtimers have lost the faith in the site after seeing it go down the drain, after literally feeling the sense of quality, both in people and content. It’s just not the same anymore. A few hardcore believers try to stay and smooth the waves but the majority doesn’t care anymore, and their voices don’t have the same weight anymore. Too many people, it’s like the paradise is lost in a sea of tourists. The oldtimers leave, with them goes the old spirit of the site, the very soul of it, the maintainers get desillusioned, start to drink and close the site, having lost their faith in mankind.

Personally I think this life cycle is bound to happen to every community site on this planet. Sooner or later, doesn’t matter, the Community Reaper is going to get them/us all. My belief.

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Carlo Zottmann @czottmann