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Creating a Lively User Community

On her Creating Passionate Users blog, Kathy Sierra has written about How to Build a User Community, referring specifically to user communities - people using a particular product or service.  Many of us are familiar with such communities, being users ourselves of software languages, frameworks, IDEs, and methodology frameworks like Scrum.  Long before Web 2.0 we were "crowd sourcing" our professional training through use of online mailing lists and forums.  Businesses are also trying to get quick feedback by allowing product users to interact on dedicated product-communities.  And some teams try to use internal blogs, forums, or wikis to foster collaboration among colleagues. Why do some forums take off while others languish?

courtesy Kathy Sierra and the Creating Passionate Users blog

She shares some tips from tips the creators of javaranch, which she calls "one of the most successful user communities on the planet (3/4 million unique visitors each MONTH)."
  1. Encourage newer users--especially those who've been active askers--to start trying to answer questions.
  2. Give tips on how to answer questions
  3. Tell them it's OK to guess a little, as long as they ADMIT they're guessing.
  4. Adopt a near-zero-tolerance "Be Nice" policy when people answer questions.
  5. Teach and encourage the more advanced users (including moderators) how to correct a wrong answer while maintaining the original answerer's dignity.
  6. Re-examine your reward/levels strategy for your community
She expands on these points in her blog entry, which is also followed by a long discussion thread. 

One important pointer from Sierra is:
Encouraging a "There Are No Dumb Questions" culture is only part of the solution. What we really need is a "There are No Dumb Answers" policy.
This last suggestion may sound simple, but too many moderators are passive and do not monitor the health of their forums.  Still, there is nothing to stop other list members from pitching in to increase list quality, making them useful, respectful places to learn, debate and share information.

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