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David McAllister on Building Communities

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In this podcast, Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to David McAllister about building technical communities. 

Key Takeaways

  • A community comes together around a common shared interest of some sort 
  • Communities need to be actively nurtured in a similar way to open source projects
  • Communities require constant tuning, and this means you need to figure out ways to measure them 
  • Different types of content work for different members of the community and in different contexts – ensure your content matches the intent 
  • “Collecting data is only the first step towards wisdom, sharing data is the first step towards community”

Show Notes

  • 00:20 Introductions
  • 01:27 The important distinction between building a community and providing customer service 
  • 01:45 A community comes together around a common shared interest of some sort 
  • 02:12 One of the worst things that can be done to a community is to treat it as if it is a customer and try to sell to them 
  • 02:34 The challenge of building and nurturing a community 
  • 02:47 Communities need to be actively nurtured in a similar way to open source projects 
  • 02:55 Things that help to maintain communities 
  • 03:01 In technology communities 90% of the people who visit the community will never say a word 
  • 03:16 As the lead for a technical community you need to ensure that the 10% who do contribute remain welcoming and supportive
  • 03:31 You need to define clearly how to get started in the community 
  • 03:48 Examples of ways to engage and alienate potential community members 
  • 04:07 Part of managing a community is to sink the people who are not welcoming 
  • 04:17 Communities require constant tuning, and this means you need to figure out ways to measure them 
  • 05:08 The story of David’s experience with Philosophy Talk 
  • 05:32 The need to cater for people at different levels of knowledge and competency in the community
  • 05:48 Examples of metrics that can be used to measure communities 
  • 06:58 The importance of understanding why people come to your community 
  • 07:08 The difference that different types of content make (eg audio works well for engineers) 
  • 07:45 Where and who the content comes from matters 
  • 07:59 A community has grown up when the community members provide more content than the organising group
  • 08:12 The value that founding a community can have for an organisation 
  • 09:34 The danger of competitive battles inside a community and the importance of preventing that from happening 
  • 09:48 Avoiding some common antipatterns and mistakes 
  • 10:21 Different engagement modes/tools
  • 10:45 Every community needs a welcome mat and an entry way that is never locked along with a roadmap
  • 11:41 Make access and navigation friction-less
  • 12:03 If an engineer must click 5 or more times to find what they’re looking for will give up and leave 
  • 12:36 The community itself must be searchable 
  • 13:12 Ways to make the community engaging – recognition & rewards 
  • 13:24 Make the people who are smart in the community recognised as smart 
  • 14:38 Important questions for selecting implementation tooling and products 
  • 14:41 How long is the data retention model for the content?
  • 15:03 Conversational communities work for real-time exchanges (eg in gaming environments)
  • 15:16 Technical communities always want history of conversations, so the tooling needs to support that 
  • 15:34 The absolute easiest community to set up is on Slack – the challenges are only around choosing who to invite and how to get them to invite others 
  • 15:46 In the technology space a forum-style community is likely to be the most valuable
  • 15:54 Forum-style communities allow Q&A style as well as conversation style interactions 
  • 16:32 Basic guidelines for forum-style tools 
    • Good search capability
    • Ease of content management and layout design
    • The ability to recognise and reward activities 
  • 17:14 Examples of products and experiences implementing them
  • 19:08 The evolution of internet communities since the 1990s 
  • 19:34 Do not set expectations that your community will be an overnight success – communities grow and evolve over time
  • 19:49 Expect that your community will change focus – allow this to happen and let the community decide where they want to go 
  • 20:09 The danger of trying to have a corporate focus and trying to control the community 
  • 20:39 Trying to sell to your community is a death-knell for engagement and kills trust
  • 21:00 David’s current experience with the Scalyr community 
  • 22:58 Quoting Henry Lewis Gates Jnr: “Collecting data is only the first step towards wisdom, sharing data is the first step towards community” 
  • 23:07 Make sure you share your data to make your community itself empowered

Mentioned

Communities where David is active:

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