Finally, no more cookie cutter online communities

I first became seriously involved in online communities while working at a professional services firm in the early 2000s – our total sum of knowledge about running ‘discussion databases’ fitted easily into about 1,000 words (just right for consumption by users inside the business who had volunteered to run an internal community of interest).

Thinking about those guidelines today, I think for the most part the technology to enable online communities has evolved a lot further than our practical knowledge of using online communities in a business or government context. Pretty much you can boil down the popular advice about creating online communities that is available today to the same generic guidance we provided people all those years ago.

However, I’ve been following Robin’s project that he blogged about the other day with great interest as it shows how sophisticated our knowledge about online communities is finally becoming. Robin’s report of 70+ pages is long way from the 5 page hand out I used to use.

At the same time, Anne and I have been working on two Government 2.0 Taskforce projects – the first (“Project 8“) involved us developing a toolkit of Web 2.0 tools and guidelines to help government agencies engage online, while the second project involved actually running an online consultation (“Project 15“).

For Project 8 – and Robin provided some input in this too – we have developed about 200 pages of guidelines, examples and templates – it is intentionally broad in scope, designed to meet the needs of a surprisingly large range of use cases (twenty-seven use cases, in fact) for online engagement by the federal government in Australia.

And for Project 15, with a much smaller and focused scope, we have applied the same ideas but put them immediately into practice.

All the projects highlight the importance of applying design processes that create specific approaches and guidelines for specific organisations or situations. As you can see from Robin’s project they completed a number of activities to develop their approach and made recommendations that touch on more than just technology and process, but people and organisational issues.

This is exactly what Social Business Design is all about.

Or in other words: Finally, no more cookie cutter online communities.