Introduce yourself!


The main thing that has changed is the unlimited amount of choices anyone has when it comes to interacting with other people. You can go shallow, deep, or anywhere in between. It’s all out there somewhere. And there are so many people with years of experience managing online groups, societies, communities, etc. that the amount of skill and knowledge is very high. Many here have managed, or still manage huge projects. It’s quite a large field now with activity in every part of the world and a ton of products on which one can build. And there are great community management tools that help one sift through large volumes of dialogue without forcing you to stay up all night just reading it all.

And our attention spans seem to get shorter all the time just like the size of the screens.

What hasn’t changed is human nature. People still like to argue, we still are all calibrated to misunderstand each other, nobody much wants to be “managed”, and taking certain actions as a manager will results in the same objections.

And yet when people develop deeper or stronger personal or professional (or both) relationships, because of your platform or community space, the same magic happens.


That’s fascinating. I wonder to what extent shorter attention spans makes community connection harder or easier/slower or faster too.

If there were one dream feature/tool/adaptation that you wish existed for online communities, what would it be?


Hello! I’m Mary Elizabeth Williams. I write for Salon, where I formerly managed the user community. I started out on Usenet and the WELL and ECHO like twenty years ago. I still believe online community can be great.


Welcome Mary Elizabeth! I’ve read and enjoyed many of your pieces.

What do you think the value of online community is for somewhere like Salon? And if it had unlimited resources/possibilities, what would you love to see it become? I’d love to hear you dream big!


I’m so glad you asked, and thank you! We’re currently working on building out our community and want to give more space for user content and dialogue. I’m thinking lately on writing a TOS that encompasses our vision and tone & that invites conversation and creativity. I have A LOT more to say but that’s a start.


Learning to write and express yourself succinctly is a valuable skill and spaces like Twitter require it. But online communities are built around conversation that runs deeper than a short set of quick rejoinders. And, how many of us get right what we mean to say on the first or even second time around? Add to that the necessity of real listening and considering, and it just isn’t going to happen without a serious investment of time and thought.

I think of Facebook and its comment spaces more like parties where most, but not all, of the people know each other and conversation participants make a point or two and then drift off and reform in other configurations, sometimes with the same people, sometimes not. It’s easy to join in and say something quick, but I doubt that things go much deeper than that. And, again, Facebook is mostly built around relationships that already exist. Are my Facebook friends and me and online community? Not really, at least by my reckoning.

The word “community” is so broad and has been used for so many purposes that it can be hard to agree on what it even means. A great many “online communities” these days are actually what I call crowdsourced product support. I’m not knocking that and indeed I often find it very useful. But I think it has helped co-opt the word. What I mean when I say community is a place where people develop real relationships in which each person has their own ratio of personal and professional. Certainly the WELL became famous for doing that and showing that there is no limit to how deep people can go with each other, even based in a computer-mediated environment. But I have seen it happen in many other places.

As for a dream tool/feature/adaptation, most of the things I have wished for already exist. They include:

  • AI that helps managers sift through large amounts of material in service of protecting the community from trolls, legal problems, etc.
  • good media uploading and display features that let you show as well as tell
  • available on multi-platforms and devices
  • ways for the users to avoid people and topics if they don’t want to see them
  • the ability to remember what you have seen in multiple conversations, and quickly take you back there
  • user rating schemes

What I haven’t seen much, if ever, is a site that rolls all of this up into one great and affordable service. I’m not sure many funders have the patience for it. And too many times I have seen how good moderators don’t get paid decently so less mature people get the work. And the whole community arena often lives under the wing of a marketing department and gets ultimately seen as too expensive to do well.

So what I would like to see is this art of relationship building and good listening and understanding given higher value on a platform that really works well. Usually it’s one or the other.


Hello Mary !

What do you think most TOS’ lack in terms of encouraging conversation and creativity? Are there any that really speak to you towards that aim?


That sounds great, Mary Elizabeth. Have you seen this post on our blog by @marieconnelly? Also this post by @jessamyn is great:


Hi John ,

Welcome!I’m Sydette the Community Lead for the Coral Project. I’m really interested in this because in my research there are multiple discussions of ritual or community events . Thinking of what hasn’t changed about human nature , I’m thinking about how we can take some of our common methods for dealing with those habits digital outside of more moderator words.

How could you calibrate giving people cool of times, reward good behavior, remind people that people are on the other ends of their words etc.


Great pointers, thank you!


Thanks – and I go by Mary Elizabeth. I think the hardest thing in setting TOS is that users need clear guidelines, but human interaction requires context and flexibility. There are few one size fits all rules for every interaction.


You’re very welcome! Let us know if you’d like to talk more with our team about what you’re trying to do.

We’re always happy to share what we’ve learned in our research, and to give constructive feedback wherever we can to help you create the community you want.


Fantastic! I’m really heartened by what I see here, and the thoughtful work you do.


Hi -
I am Rachel Happe and I started an organization called The Community Roundtable in 2009 because we saw the explosion of networked communications tools/channels and limited understanding of how to facilitate them in a productive and meaningful way.

We do a lot of research, the core of which is The State of Community Management.

I see a couple friends/collaborators here including @marieconnelly and @LouWoodley both of whom are awesome.

I think there is such a new for and huge opportunity in journalism for online communities but I think that, generally speaking, there is a lack of understanding of the investment required in software and human resources. I was reading the comment above about how poorly paid a lot of moderators are - but good moderators make or break the community and its ability to generate value.

A lot of my work focuses on the business of community - how to pitch it, how to project value, how to measure communities and how to hire for them.

We have a wealth of research and content on our website around this topic for anyone who is interested - and our head of research Ted McEnroe is an ex-executive producer, most recently at NECN. I will definitely be pulling him in here.

Looking forward to the conversation!



Hello Rachel,

I am so excited you are here!

We are so glad you do it. The value of community in journalism is so high but describing it in ways that make impact is a moving target . Increased monetary support is part of it , but now that news breaks socially and can come from anywhere, there is another value on top of that … If you’re the platform someone trusts above others that can be HUGE and make so much happen but it takes time to build that trust. Phrasing that in ways that business value is often a rough go.

What do you think people need to know most about communities? What work would you love for other people to do towards community?


We’re doing a lot of work with our clients and members around analytics and ROI - in large part so community owners can really see the value. There are two things I would recommend in that vein:

  1. Projecting out your ROI curve over time so executives can see that there is an investment period before they will get the pay-off at scale they will need to justify it. The things most executives really dislike is the not knowing vs. the risk. If you can show them the risk and how to manage it, they get much more comfortable with investing in something.

  2. Show them the change in behavior. I did this for a sales/marketing process at the bottom of this blog post. For journalism, the process is different but not that different. Community fills a gap between social media (content/consumption/sharing) and the formal content site/channel on which the organization publishes. It brings them to a home base to let them discuss topics in more depth in a managed (read no trolls/safe space) environment.


ooh thank you . I like the second point because it really emphasizes how these spaces need to be managed for that benefit to work.


Hi everyone.

I’m Ted McEnroe. My career has taken me from education, to 15 years of broadcast and online journalism, to community foundations and now to online community. I work with @rhappe at The Community Roundtable, handling our research and learning from her every day. The ROI piece that Sydette and Rachel noted is really interesting, because from my experience it feels like we are torn between the idea of “making a difference” and “generating traffic/engagement.” When we think about why we do the job, it’s for the former. But when we have to justify our existence, it comes down to the latter, which is a horribly simple and ineffective way to determine worth.

More on that later, I’m sure.

When I think about communities as a piece of journalism, they fill a very important need. They’re a space to listen. We are really good at getting stuff out, and we see value in that. We aren’t as good at creating safe spaces for conversation, and I’m excited that this project has the opportunity to explore that. I look forward to listening, contributing and connecting.



Hi Ted

Welcome! Thank you for joining.

Can you talk a little about what metrics you feel we could use to measure ‘making a difference’? I feel that if we have some meaningful data, it could help support that becoming a stronger focus with those for whom we have to justice our existence.

Also which online communities do you think are particularly strong?



Hi Andrew,

I was hoping that would just slide by…

Not really - but it’s a really hard question to answer. At its most straightforward level, it’s finding ways to capture that knowledge had been passed on, versus that something had been scrolled through. Are there metrics for quality of comments, versus volume? Could you get people to highlight their biggest takeaways from a story versus measuring that they scrolled to the bottom of it? Do readers take an action that suggest they have gotten something out of it? “Engagement” is seen as on/off, but we know from experience that there is a range of value in different types of contact.

I also see something interesting in efforts to capture and quantify measures of impact in journalism.

It’s an area that I think will continue to evolve, because at some level, we need to teach people we have thought of as passive readers/viewers to adopt desired community behaviors.

Best communities… There are a number of tech-related communities that have really been able to embrace the Q-and-A piece and get members to collaborate and innovate. There are communities that find ways to inspire and embrace their advocates. Salesforce, for example, has created a community for their top advocates, and have discovered that they do a phenomenal amount of work to answer questions and solve problems, and they make sure those folks get value for their efforts.

There are a number of organizations with robust internal communities, which might be most analogous to the local newspaper, that have bolstered leadership involvement, and there’s something there to learn from - it’s not getting the C-suite/mayor involved, but rather the subject matter experts, the people who actually know what’s happening, into the community.

I’m getting too long-winded… so I’ll pause for now.