Gail Ann Williams on Community from Love@First Website

I’m spending the morning at iSite’s Love@First Website Conference here in Portland.

I was impressed with Gail Ann Williams’ presentation about building online community. She was an early participant at The WELL and is currently the Director of Communities at

Here are my raw notes from Gail’s presentation. In other words these are my notes about her words (not my words), so hopefully, I managed to get most of it right with only a few typos.

What do we mean by community anyway?

  • Interactions and relationships: people who know each other very closely and are in your network along with the people who are loosely connected to each other. These connections are the most powerful part of community.
  • Complexity: people are members of multiple overlapping communities.
  • Continuity over time (which used to mean geographic proximity): our sense of place comes from the continuity and culture that is built over time. As the community evolves, they really become stakeholders in the community and feel like they own the community as much as the company and the developers own it.

What are your goals?

Always go back to the goals of the community. What are you trying to do and what do you want to accomplish? Salon found that allowing comments on articles started to build another community for Salon outside of the forums. These new members were interested in a community around the writers, but weren’t interested in the forums and were really a separate community that couldn’t be integrated with the other communities at Salon.

Set expectations

Being clear, upfront, and honest with your users, especially when you are making a big change, can help community members understand the reasons behind the change. They will also be more likely to support the change if they understand the reasons and have some time to vent about it.

Understand newcomer dynamics

Welcome newcomers in a friendly way, but don’t be overbearing and creepy about it. Existing community members tend to develop an insider / outsider mentality, which makes it very difficult for new people to engage in an enjoyable way. Community managers and other members need to be available to remind existing users that they were once new and that new people can become valuable members of the community and eventually become friends.

Spammers, Trolls, etc.

It really takes a lot of time to manage these annoying people. You can put some things in place to reduce spam and trolls (email verification, real names, etc.), but ultimately, real people need to jump in and moderate. Employees can clean it up, especially if you can get users to report the issues. Even when people don’t use it very often, the report abuse button might act as a deterrent to potential spammers who know that it will get reported quickly. Spam becomes a bigger issue on low volume sites, since the spam is more visible. Trolls are an interesting issue. They can be just trolls, but sometimes it can be a result of deeper personal / mental issues.

Collecting info at registration

Amazon has a good model. You can leave reviews with minimal information, but you can also be validated to get the real name designation. In general, ask for the information that you need to function as a community along with some information about why the information is needed. Add just enough of a barrier to reduce the spam, but not so much that people won’t want to join.

I only captured a few of the best points during the presentation, but it was great to hear from someone who has been continually participating and managing communities since the very early days of the Internet.

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6 thoughts on “Gail Ann Williams on Community from Love@First Website”

  1. Thanks for capturing Gail’s presentation for those of us who couldn’t be there this morning. Now I need to go digging for coverage of your Dr. Seuss preso…

  2. Janet,

    No problem! Gail’s presentation was great.

    There is a video and a copy of the slides from a very similar presentation in February. The slides are identical, but the delivery was quite a bit different this time.

    They did capture video of all of the presentations, but I expect it will take them some time to edit and post it.

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