Four Rules For Community

This guest post is written by M. Alan Thomas II (call him Alan) a.k.a CrazyDreamer of Critical Mass. Critical Mass is a blog that focuses on the advancement of quality in webfiction. It rocks. Alan also has a public first draft of fantasy webfiction called Wet Hero. In this guest post he outlines and details four principles of community.

Rule #1: Acknowledge your membership.A Crowded Train Station

If you are reading this, then you are probably part of the blooking community or a closely-related one. A community is made up of a lot of things, but one of the most important is simply a recognition by its membership they belong to it. If enough people say “I am part of the X community,” then the X community exists. What’s more, not only is there strength in numbers, but the more people who acknowledge their membership in the community, the more visibility the community has and the more likely it is that someone who is involved around the edges will realize that the community is one of their interests and will want to become more involved.

Rule #1 is fairly simple, but it enhances everything that follows.

Rule #2: Be involved.

Membership in a community is more than filling out a form; it means paying your dues. Not monetary dues, but involvement. It’s like being in a social relationship: According to some sociologists, a relationship begins when there is an awareness of being observed. In other words, it begins when you and the other person are both able to be affected by the other (because you both observe the other) and acknowledge that fact (Rule #1). In the case of an online community, this requires that you do something for another member of the community to notice.

Eli will have stuck some sort of answer to the question “Who is this strange person writing on Novelr?” at the top of this post. I presume that it mentions my own blog on the subject of webfiction[1], Critical Mass. Hopefully other members of the webfiction community notice my contributions there, particularly after reading this post. (Hey, guest posts are good, free advertising. I never said that being part of a community had to be altruistic!) If you don’t want to run your own blog—and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t—a guest post can add a new topic to the core conversation or develop an argument at length with far more prominence and ease of commenting than a comment to someone else’s post can. Whether or not you have the time or desire to write a guest post, you can and should write public comments, e-mail other members of the community, and/or otherwise make a nuisance of yourself add your thoughts to the mix.

Also, act on what you read. It doesn’t matter how good an idea is if nobody acts on it. Help out with community projects. (For example, the Electronic Literature Organization’s.) Even if it doesn’t apply to you, tell other people about it. Write a quick synopsis of it on your own site or e-mail it to your friends. Spread the word. By doing so, you will not only help advance the state of the art, you might even convince some others that they should get involved.

Rule #2 is really what makes a community a community; everything else is just a recommendation.

Rule #3: Find an unoccupied niche and stick to it.

Collorary to Rule #3: When something fits another site’s niche better than your own site’s, take it there.

You may be wondering why I am writing this as a guest post rather than putting it on my own site. Besides the free advertising, I am publishing this post here because it doesn’t fit either the theme or the mission of my own site; my site is designed to promote critical thought about, enable scholarly acceptance of, and enhance the state of the art in webfiction, not to write up rules for creating communities online. Nobody else appeared to be attempting those goals in that manner, so I decided to. Similarly, because nobody else had a reviews site that worked as well as Pages Unbound does, Alexandra Erin started one. And so on. We each fill our niche, and each niche is an unfulfilled want or need of the community. This post, a post talking about community, did not fit my site’s niche, but it does fit Novelr’s. Novelr is, among other things, where I come to talk about community.[2] Division of content is necessary firstly because people subscribe to a site to read one kind of content and may be turned off by another (or at least not want to dig through it) and secondly because sites are like words: when two of them become indistinguishable, one of them eventually dies.

Rule #3 helps you take advantage of the long tail, among other things.

Rule #4: Create sorted, trimmed, and prioritized links.

Of course, guest posts and niches are not the only things necessary for a community. A community requires people. People require filters, even if they’re just other people. Online, these filters often take the form of links. The problem here is that links are sometimes badly sorted or prioritized. For example, I have seen blogs where the blogroll exceeds the length of most of the posts. This is unlikely to make anyone want to browse it. The links may be categorized, but the categories each include so many sites that one suspects that they cannot all be of the highest quality. For my part, I have two link categories with five links: two to other relevant sites of mine and three to sites that I think are important parts of the community or discussion. I would hope that stories make an effort to separate their links into the community, other stories, personal interests, and so on and to appropriately emphasize quality sites. Certainly I would expect someone to direct others to key sites in a community if they consider themselves a member of it.

Rule #4 really applies to anyone with a website, but it’s extra-important for communities.

Footnotes

[1]”Webfiction” is the term that I prefer for serialized fiction that is adapted to its online medium.

[2]Perhaps more importantly, it is also an excellent source for information on sites, articles, and other things that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise, and its synopses and analyses are first-rate, telling me everything that I need to know about and suggesting everything that I should think about a variety of posts and articles elsewhere that I don’t have the time or inclination to find and read for myself.

Alan’s blog, Critical Mass, has three aims. These are: firstly, to promote webfiction; secondly, to improve the state of the art by holding webfiction to a high critical standard; and, thirdly, to provide a filtering resource. He has reviews, editorials, and articles up for offer, so pop by for a fix, won’t you?

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Category: Guest Bloggers · Web Fiction Writers
  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    *stares at Novelr’s sidebar*

    Oh dear. I’ll get down to changing it as soon as I’m free. I’ve never thought of sidebars as community tools, you know, not until you mentioned it.

    Thanks, Alan.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org/ M. Alan Thomas II

    I suppose that I should start signing my real name to these comments. ^_^ My own site being scholarly, I feel ethically obliged to ensure that posts carry the author’s real name on them, but in most environments I’m happy to be known by my fairly unique nickname.

    As for the post: Nice picture; I’m so words-oriented that I never thought to add an illustration. I think that I need to not read my own posts, though; I immediately start wanting to revise more. (I’m one of those people who writes by revision, so I’m always tweaking everything.)

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