In light of recent world events, many people have been reaching out for the sort of closeness and supportive reassurances that can come from friends "met" in online communities. In an article written for TechTV.com, Design for Community
author Derek M. Powazek notes that in the days following September 11 new sites sprang up and message board activity went through the roof. Message boards and chatrooms allowed people to connect with others--so crucial in times of trouble--to share breaking news, find ways to help, or post personal stories.
Of course, online communities are not only for the bad times: Web stores feature user-posted reviews, bulletin boards build up around all types of issues or shared experiences, celebrities answer questions in live chat sessions, and singles with Web cams check each other out.
"Web communities happen when users are given tools to use their voice in a public and immediate way, forming intimate relationships over time." Powazek should know; he created Fray.com and Kvetch.com and has acted as a consultant on Web community features for Netscape, Lotus, and Sony. Design for Community offers thorough (and entertaining) discussions on all aspects of building and maintaining a Web-based community. There are chapters on choosing content (including Powazek's recipe for encouraging positive communities), designing ("How do you present a discussion system that encourages friendly conversation?"), deciding on the backend technology necessary to run a site (whether server-side software or free Web-based tools), setting up rules, hosting, moderating, and even someday "killing" your community.
Each chapter features an interview with an expert, like Steven Johnson of Plastic.com on design and Emma Taylor, host of Nervecenter.com, a "community of thoughtful hedonists," on setting barriers and enforcing rules. Powazek maintains a companion site for this book at Designforcommunity.com, with excerpts, more essays, and, of course, a forum for discussion. If you're even considering building an online community, you must begin with this book. --Angelynn Grant
As community features keep cropping up on even the simplest Web site, it's important for Web designers and developers to understand how these features work and the best way to--or not to--implement them. The Web site for the book www.designforcommunity.com serves as an interactive example and legitimate online community for readers of this book. It incorporates all the examples and suggestions outlined in the text and fosters a direct online community, not only between readers, but between the author and readers as well. Each chapter opens with an in-depth explanation of a single issue, from practical issues like email and list moderation to more conceptual issues like trust and intimacy. These discussions lay the groundwork and provide an even-handed explanation of the issues, as well as advocate for the right way to solve the problems, based on the author's years of experience. Organizing the book by specific issues and corresponding interviews allows the readers to skip around and focus in on the single issue they're struggling with.