On Google+ Communities

I'm excited about the launch of Google Communities.  In the past, options for building a community site typically involve finding a PHP based Forum system, which requires expertise to install, customize, and maintain.  I would know.  We've been running the HTMLHelp.com forums for 16+ years, and I've been paying for dedicated servers that entire time plus coordinating with my HTMLHelp.com partners to keep the site alive and free as a community resource.

Which brings me to the most important piece of information I can pass along - communities require commitment.  Not for a year, or two, or even ten.  You can't call it a community just because you get a group of people together.  Relationships take time.

What It Really Takes

Google+ is democratizing community development by removing the cost and complexity of maintaining infrastructure.  They are also enabling loose networks of social media linkage to become tighter groups of people to talk about shared interests.  But what they can't do is supply the willpower to help those communities grow and thrive.

For those who are interested in starting a community, my advice is simple.  Pick just one thing you are passionate about.  That you think you'll love even two decades from now.  And start a group.  It doesn't matter if you have 50 or 5,000 members.  It will be a labor of love.

And labor it will be.  Many, many people will start "communities" in order to make themselves the central character in the story.  But the best Community managers will foster a decentralized and democratized environment that inspires members to connect and add value to one another's lives, not their own.

A great community will have rules.  And it will have a team of moderators who keep constant vigil.  The moderators will rule with gentle absolution.  Shepherding and guiding young members, while protecting the collective from those who wish to do it harm.

Google's Responsibility

Perhaps two thirds of the responsibility for a Community is on the team that leads it, but the rest absolutely falls on the infrastructure that supports it.

Google has given us a good set of rudimentary tools, but compared to modern Forums what we currently have is straw, when we really need to be building brick houses.  This is acceptable for now because it allows us all to participate and get the ball rolling without waiting for a perfect system.  However there are still a number of basic things that the Google+ community needs.

G+ Community Needs

==> Moderators need ability to move posts to a topic.  (ie - Something posted in Discussion should really be in FAQs)

==> Every Community need a RULES / Intro page, or FAQ page (or a place for URL links to them).  In the Geeks community we created a post and a short link which is included in the ABOUT text.  But even that link is not clickable.

==> Need a Private Message member link in moderator drop down, for example to notify people that their post is being removed and why.  Moderators MUST have an open line of communication to members.

==> Moderators need the ability to make shared notes about members (visible only to the moderators) so they can spot problem behavior leading to a Ban, etc.  There should also be a log of all moderator activities for accountability.  A team of moderators can't know what actions each other have taken without some assistance.

==> Google needs to have an automated process of eliminating users who are being banned from multiple communities.

==> Members need a "Notify a Moderator" link to report offending posts.

==> Members need to be able to see one another's history of posts in a given Community.  For example, a clickable link to all previous posts or discussion threads. (Speaking of which, we still badly need discussion threading in G+.)

==> There should be a Post frequency limitation.  So we don't have a DOS-like situation where people hyjack a stream while a moderator isn't looking.  A lot of damage could be done in say 15 minutes of a rogue user repeating a comment over and over.

These are just a few of the things I've already spotted, and others will have spotted more, or will soon learn the weaknesses of the system.  My hope is that we have the Google+ team's commitment to truly support our Communities and to deliver timely and consistent updates so we can all work together to make Google+ the kind of place we want it to be, 20 years from now.
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