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6 December 2009

The art of community

Filed under: books, catalysts, collaboration, ecosystem management — David Wood @ 8:42 pm

A PDF version of the presentation I gave last Thursday to a meeting of the Software/Open Source SIG of the Cambridge Wireless Network, “Open ecosystems – Communities that build the future“, is now available for download from the resources page of the Cambridge Wireless website.

The overall contents of my presentation are introduced by the text from slide 2:

Slide 12 provides a summary of the second half of my presentation

Someone who clearly shares my belief in the importance of community, and in the fact that there are key management skills that need to be brought to bear to get the best out of the potential of a community, is Jono Bacon, who works at Canonical as the Ubuntu Community Manager.  Jono’s recent book, “The art of community: building the new age of participation” has been widely praised – deservedly so.

The whole book is available online for free download.

Over the course of 11 chapters spanning 360 pages, Jono provides a host of practical advice about how to best cultivate a community.  Although many of the examples he provides are rooted in the world of open source software (and, in particular, the community which supports the Ubuntu distribution of Linux), the principles generally apply far more widely – to all sorts of communities, particularly communities with a significant online presence and significant numbers of volunteers.  To quote from the preface:

The Art of Community is not specifically focused on computing communities, and the vast majority of its content is useful for anything from political groups to digital rights to knitting and beyond.

Within this wide range of possible communities, this book will be useful for a range of readers:

  • Professional community managers – If you work in the area of community management professionally
  • Volunteers and community leaders – If you want to build a strong and vibrant community for your volunteer project
  • Commercial organizations – If you want to work with, interact with, or build a community around your product or service
  • Open source developers – If you want to build a successful project, manage contributors, and build buzz
  • Marketeers – If you want to learn about viral marketing and building a following around a product or service
  • Activists – If you want to get people excited about your cause

Every chapter in this book is applicable to each of these roles. While technology communities provide many examples throughout the book, the purpose of these examples requires little technical knowledge.

I’ve just finished reading all 360 pages.  Each new chapter introduces important new principles and techniques.  I was reading the book for three reasons:

  1. To compare ideas about the best way to run parts of an open source software community (as used to be part of my responsibilities at the Symbian Foundation);
  2. To get ideas about how to boost the emerging community of people who share my interest in the “Humanity Plus” ideas covered in some of my other blog postings;
  3. To consider the possible wider role of well-catalysed communities to address the bigger challenges and opportunities facing society at the present time;

The book succeeded, for me, on all three levels.  Parts that I particularly liked included:

  • The importance of establishing a compelling mission statement for a community (Chapter 2)
  • Tips on building simple, effective, and nonbureaucratic processes that enable your community to conduct tasks, work together, and share their successes (Chapter 4)
  • How to build excitement and buzz around your community – and some telling examples of how not to do this (Chapter 6)
  • The importance of open and transparent community governance principles – and some reasons for occasionally limiting openness (Chapter 8)
  • Guidance on how to identify, handle, and prevent irksome conflict (ahead of time, if possible), and on dealing with divisive personalities (Chapter 9)
  • Ideas on running events – where (if done right) the “community” feeling can deepen to something more akin to “family” (Chapter 10).

(This blogpost contains an extended table of contents for Jono’s book.  And see here for a short video of Jono describing his book.)

The very end of the book mentions an annual conference called “The community leadership summit”.  To quote from the event website:

Take the microphone and join experienced community leaders and organizers to discuss, debate and explore the many avenues of building strong community in an open unconference setting, complimented by additional structured presentations.

I’m attracted by the idea of participating in the 2010 version of that summit 🙂

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2 Comments »

  1. Excellent talk at TED on this subject from Clay Shirkey : http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html

    Thanks for the link to the book – will be interesting to see how many of the things it suggests Symbian is doing at the moment.

    Comment by David Durant — 7 December 2009 @ 1:47 am


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