Thoughts on Communities
Lately there's been a noticeable number of attempts to create communities online and especially in the creative space. Even with the best intentions and people eager to join, most of them fail and will continue to do so, despite the universal need to belong somewhere. It's not a matter of joining and reaping the benefits, but a more important decision that has to be carefully considered.
Usually, successful communities are created in a spontaneous fashion, with members that share common interests, goals and eventually values. This process cannot be forced or purposely replicated.
Abundance of challenges
People looking to join a community, are usually drawn to prominent members, or are attracted to an ideal view of themselves after joining. However, when you join a community, you are giving permission to be identified by every single member's actions and behaviours, whatever they may be.
While you think of the advantages you'll enjoy, you forget or intentionally neglect that, like in Democracy, rights come with responsibilities. You'll gain support and companionship, but in return you have to speak up against wrong behaviours. But how many do that when the time comes? That's the question, that most of us, answer by ignoring.
That's really evident in the maker space lately. Even though most people are sweating away to create something valuable, a few, really vocal members choose the easy way to copy and rebrand existing work of others, to game the system and be a part of the community. Such actions lead to unfair group labelling, that tends to be accurate as time progresses, with self-respecting members distancing themselves and leaving space for similar behaviours.
Even respected and successful communities, have their problems, since they attract users at a higher rate and are tempted to pursue growth, which can become uncontrollable. The Eternal September resembles what threatens the most successful ones nowadays and even companies that operate with similar rules, like Y Combinator. Huge influx of new members, usually leads to compromises on the quality and core values of even the best communities. To paraphrase M.Collin, the CEO of Front, with every new member you accept, think if you could handle 10 similar ones, because as you grow, that's what will happen.
Not probable, but possible
This does not mean that it's not possible to establish a successful and open online community. But it cannot be forced or rushed and it's better to have a small, slow-growing community that provides a sensible time-frame for new members to adjust or remove themselves voluntarily, if they fail to do that. That's probably why when you see a high-growing community advertise itself, you know how it will end up.
* A special thank you to Aggelos Gesoulis for helping me sort my thoughts and write this post.