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crotchety online communities

For what I’ve gathered from the reading this week, some of the challenges of building an active (and the keyword is active) online community is to have a community with a clearly stated objective, and make it a welcoming place for people to ask questions.  “Successful communities have to put out the welcome mat to create safe, open and fulfilling environments,” explains Andrew Cohen (http://www.idealware.org/articles/successful_communities.php) in the online article entitled “Characteristics of Successful Online Communities.  From what I’ve noticed in online communities, there’s got to be a place for newbies to ask dumb questions and to quickly absorb information to turn around and answer other’s dumb questions.  I wasn’t surprised to read in the article online article entitled “Building a User Community” that this is actually a key way to creating an involved online community (http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/12/how_to_build_a_.html).

Online communities often begin to have unique personalities as they develop.  One online forum I frequent is the Steel Guitar Forum (http://bb.steelguitarforum.com/index.php).  It’s a place for pedal steel guitar players to share information.  Pedal steel guitar is a funny instrument.  It’s incredibly complex, and there aren’t a whole lot of younger players, like myself (okay, so I’m no so young),  fumbling around with it.  It’s also really tough to find someone to teach you.  I live in Washington State, and I have only heard of one person that teaches pedal steel, and they live in Oregon.  It’s an obscure instrument, for lack of a better word, and the community reflects that.  It’s full of people who are incredibly willing to share and teach, but tend to be a bit old and crotchety.  I’ve learned to really enjoy it, but have to admit I’ve been an anonymous lurker who learns more from others who have risked asking dumb questions, rather than ask my own.  The community certainly doesn’t adopt a “be nice” policy, but that’s okay (http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2006/12/how_to_build_a_.html).  Whereas other online communities may suffer from the challenges of having a crotchety group of regulars, it’s the community’s character that keeps me coming back, along with the content that cannot be found anywhere else.  I think about trying to learn the pedal steel just before the internet age, and realize it would have been impossible.  There is definitely the type of community Nancy White speaks to in “Online Community Building Strategy: Nancy White On Networks, Groups and Technology Choices” when she says, “a community is a bounded group of people who care about something together and interact around that issue over time (http://www.masternewmedia.org/online-community-building-strategy-nancy-white-on-networks-groups-and-technology-choices/#ixzz1sX7G2lsI).  When you are learning an instrument that is like wrestling a piano while lightly strumming a guitar, and patting your belly and rubbing your head, you need a sense of community to keep you going and provide empathy.  I think I may finally be ready to stop lurking and make a presence on the site.