Communities – start simple, don’t over-design

By Nic Price on 1 April 2009 — 1 min read

Social notworking

In 2002 we built something on the BBC’s intranet called “Learning Online”. I was working with an amazing team of forward-thinking and innovative people.

We designed Learning Online to be the intranet home for BBC employees to manage their personal development, training and career development.

Alongside e-learning, personal development planning and a personalised virtual induction, was a section called MyNetworks.

If you picture MyNetworks as an early prototype for Facebook groups you’ll have a pretty close approximation. But this was 2002, so the concept was still fairly alien to most people.

The idea behind MyNetworks was simple. Create spaces for groups of people who had something in common where they could have conversations, share “knowledge” as documents or images, and plan events.

We had a lot of interest from various people, who set up and “ran” their networks with varying degrees of success.

There was one consistent and recurring theme.

Where a lot of time was spent “designing” a network before involving its members, the network invariably failed.

Often people would put great effort in to the planning of how a network would be run, and how the information in the network would be organised. When the network was finally launched, nobody used it. And those who did found a perplexing empty suite of rooms.

It seems obvious to say it, but the idea of “if we build it they will come” really did not work in most cases.

The less “designed” the network, the greater chance of its success, through participation and involvement of its members using the online tools to support the network, but not to be the network.

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  • I would second this. I worked on a very popular, high-profile NASCAR website in the US. We started with very sparse features. Nice profiles and a forum and not much else. The community loved it and Mashable praised us for not getting carried away with features. Said it was brave and interesting to make a forum-based social networking site, or something like that.

    (In reality we were on a legacy platform we couldn’t develop with quickly enough, but they weren’t to know!)

  • A new community-based online initiative has just been launched in SE22 and neighbouring areas… I think you might like it – a combination of freecycle and facebook…’s already working to bring communities together in Hammersmith and Fulham – and hopefully will soon take off in the south too… watch this space…!

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