Should we stop trying to nurture this virtual community?

Hello!

I am running https://communitynetworks.group, a discourse forum maintained by rhizomatica.org and apc.org for individuals and organizations that promote communal ownership and stewardship of telecom infrastructure (also known as community networks).

Although we’ve done many concrete actions, we have done a review of the last 2 years of the platform, and although we know it has become useful, we feel we might have failed in promoting a healthy community.

We have done a few very successful actions, mainly:

We would like to seek for advice in relation to wether there is concrete things we could do to keep exploring in relation to engagement, or maybe reassurance that our assessment is right.

Thanks in advance to all the collective wisdom!

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A design/ux feedback from browsing about 15 mins: the forum feels visually more or less characterless, but both maintainers have a strong visual identity. That leaves the impression it’s the unwanted stepchild of both.

Rhizomatica claims to be all about supporting community, but the site doesn’t offer easy ways to connect. The “Get involved” button leads to a 404 error page.

Overall I wondered: why doesn’t Rhizomatica embrace this forum as their own? Wouldn’t it just fit in their organizational model to have a community forum that offers easy and transparent ways to get involved and exchange knowledge?

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If these two companies “maintain” the communitynetworks.group, why don’t they have any mention of it on either of their websites? Rhizomatica doesn’t have a link to it on their resource page or on their About page. Nothing at all. When I checked out apc.org it was the same thing - no mention whatsoever of the communitynetworks.group. That to me is a little strange. One would think they would promote it or at the least give it some visibility on their sites.

In the morning I’ll take a look at CommunityNetworks. Just from what you’ve written about the community’s accomplishments shows it has been a powerful tool. If things are slowing down, maybe a bit of marketing to get the word out to more people? It would help if the two companies gave mention on their sites of the community’s existence.

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Hey @nicopace :wave:

The fact that you took the time to post this means that you’re committed. That’s the biggest pitfall any community can have - admins who are not committed.

So, it’s great that we don’t have to deal with that here.

Looking through the list of the things you’ve already done. I would say you’ve done pretty much everything that you can do.

However, the world is changing… and the average internet user is changing as well.

So, let’s look at that list from a 2021 perspective - and I’ll keep it short.

You’re relying too much on the “newsletter” mode.

For example:

Community networks on the web - Community Networks

I just scrolled through that topic, and I saw things related to India and also things related to Colombia in the same topic.

As a user, this makes it a lot more difficult for me to engage - because it’s a topic that covers a wide variety of subjects.

I would recommend limiting topics to the discussion of a singular idea. That way, ideas can branch out and still be relevant to the main discussion.

It’s great that you have those talks documented and the transcripts available, but if you want to attract a bigger audience, it’s just too much visible text.

Keep the video visible, put the transcript in a <details> tag like so

transcript
This is my transcript.

And add engaging questions below - like

How do you feel about XYZ?

Trust me, I’m lord-writes-alot, so I understand, but I also only do it when I know the audience will get it.

If you’re trying to grow your audience. A wall of text will never be beneficial.

Also, highlighting a post with moderator-highlight should be reserved to when you - as an admin/moderator - are giving a warning or really highlighting something. If I see a topic with 7 posts highlighted, I’d be hesitant to engage.

don’t use moderator-highlight so much.

In this topic

Asia lightning talks: meet projects selected to strengthen community networks - #2 by deborabr - Tech Talks - Community Networks

I see that you guys added a poll.

Giving users options is a fantastic idea. However, giving users options too early is detrimental.

I’ll explain. If you have a topic with a poll that only 4 users vote on… any new users that land in your community will think it’s a ghost town. So, they won’t bother with creating a new account.

Once you have an interactive userbase, feel free to create polls. Until then, it’s you directing where the community should head next.

To me, these are the numbers you should focus on most.

There’s nothing wrong with having “community-exclusive” content to drive people to your forum - which also relates to this.

And this is also a very valid point.

A few category icons and a little bit of theming (we have many free configurable themes in the #theme category) might also help.

So, make sure the community is linked where relevant, spruce up the design a little bit, and add more content that attracts new users and makes existing users want to come back.

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I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing a lot as I’m about to launch a community.

First up, I suspect a successful community is really hard to achieve if you don’t have a huge audience of your own already. So don’t feel bad …

What I’m doing is focusing my attention quite tightly on a couple of key use cases for the platform. In my case it’s wiki pages and help-wanted volunteer requests. When I talk to people about the platform, I will principally tell them it’s for these purposes, and I will make sure it is optimised for them.

I can think of a myriad of possible uses for the platform, but I don’t want to be distracted by them. 75% of the benefit will come from these 2 uses cases. The other vaguer possibilities will only have a chance to come into existence if people visit and use the platform, and they will only visit if there’s an established reason for doing so, and it’s the 2 key uses that will create that.

In order to make these key use cases work even before people are visiting the platform much, bringing it to them wherever they are is key. In my case that means adding a list of “help wanted” items to the footer of email newsletters.

It’s particularly important that the platform is engaging for new users at first glance. When the community is well established, trying to triage the flow of information for key contributors becomes a central concern. But at the beginning, it’s all about first impressions for new users. I’d say this is something that meta here is not great at.

So what key use cases could you start to make happen?

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That is part of it, but not the silver bullet. The silver bullet is getting your concept right. It’s not enough to assume that just because you find something interesting (or you have a brand) that others will. In order for a community to succeed it has to solve a problem for people.

I do think your approach is the correct one, Jonathan. Narrow scope, direct paths to the key value proposition.

It’s actually not, especially in developer or support communities. In those cases it is important to provide people with the answers they came for as quickly as possible.

@nicopace The first thing you need to establish is what success means for you. Most people say that success is good engagement figures, but that isn’t enough. What objective does engagement meet for your organisation? If I were you, I’d work that out first and then I’d sample a small handful of the community and talk to them directly. Ask them why they use the community and how it could be made more valuable for them. Don’t make any assumptions.

(I also agree with the advice offered by the responders before me, but I think you need to cut to the chase and get some information before making changes.)

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Really thanks for so many insights!

Thanks for this! It indeed feels a little left behind.

Indeed we ourselves haven’t properly communicated the existance and relevance of it.

This project has grown in its own silo… it is a very on-point question you rise! Thanks

Thanks! We believe that the current usecases are strong and don’t expect to stop exploring them, but curious how to keep exploring it (and learning with you all at the same time).

The way it was structured made sense from a systems perspective (as it is connected to a newsletter producing tool that uses the RSS feed of the topics to digest news), but it didn’t made sense from UX. I will adjust it, thanks!

never thought about this, but makes sense!

I think we’ve again made it so interactions happen mostly in the chat of the webinar, and not designed the interaction in the forum (and focused in the archival/discovery of it). More thought should be put on the UX.

Makes sense, thanks for this!

This is in-line with conversations we’ve had, related to it your own home-cooked food :slight_smile:

There is a stagnant but growing community of community network practitioners, users, deployers, technicians, policy advocates… so the audience is there.

It is related to what i’ve been trying with the newsletter and the webinars… maybe more attention to that would make it more relevant, and those usecases could drive its growth.

I think the webinars and the news discussion can be the center for now… and grow to other usecases as we go.

I strongly agree… and believe there are a few elements there that the space could be useful for.

For all the groups of people mentioned earlier (implementors, advocates, technicians) to relate to the platform and for it to be the first place were they think of when they have a question about community networks. (i think!)

Good suggestion!

Action points:

  1. work on the UX of the homepage so users feel welcomed to read and to ask
  2. add clear indications of the existance and relevance of the forum in each partner’s websites
  3. modify newsletter integration so it works with topics in a category instead of responses on a topic.
  4. in webinars, put the transcript in a <details> tag so it gets hidden by default
  5. don’t use moderator-highlight so much.
  6. Once you have an interactive userbase, feel free to create polls. Until then, it’s you directing where the community should head next.
  7. add more content that attracts new users and makes existing users want to come back.
  8. sample a small handful of the community and talk to them directly
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Once you’ve made some/any significant changes and/or improvements, showcase them so your users know there’s something different from the “same old” community they’ve already seen (and may have gotten “bored” with). A notice in the newsletter with the main points would be a big help, but make it so they’d have to come to the forum to see a detailed description for each improvement or change. If everything is in the newsletter, there would be no need to “check it out.” :wink:

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