A few random thoughts on building communities
I’m not surprised, but this is a wonderful post from Kyle. Lots to learn from.
Some learnings I’ve acquired over the past nine months building Forrst, bullet-point style and in no particular order:
- Your earliest users are vital to the success of the community. They should be people you absolutely trust and/or know IRL (the first 100 or so users of Forrst were all either friends, current/former co-workers, or close friends of theirs)
- Your web app itself is only a means to an end; it helps the community form but it doesn’t define it (Forrst is a pretty simple piece of technology in and of itself)
- Be ready to follow the community; that is, the community might end up in a slightly/vastly different place than you intended. That’s okay; embrace it. (Forrst became a place where anyone, no matter what their skill level, can come to get great feedback and get better at what they do. My original goal for Forrst was merely to build something to replace the way I (didn’t) use Twitter and Tumblr to post development-related stuff)
- Be active as hell and be human. The community needs to know there’s someone just like them on the other end of the line (I use Forrst every single day and interact as much as I can. I also read and respond to every email I get [though it might take me some time :)]. Forrst never would have grown the way it has if I had just stayed out of sight)
- Don’t take things so personally; you’ll inevitably have problematic users from time to time. Be adult and human about it. It’s not your fault. It happens.
- Have rules and enforce them. Don’t be afraid of not being a one-size fits all place where anything goes (one of the reasons I personally feel Forrst has been successful thus far is that there are rules about what fits and what doesn’t. It’s helped keep content highly focused and relevant)
- Reward users for being awesome (Forrst users get more invites for their friends the more active and engaged they are)
- It’s okay to be exclusive (Forrst’s invite-only model definitely has gotten its share of flak for being “elitist” [even though we’re far from it], but it’s also helped keep the number of new users per day down to a very manageable number [updated] This is good because it doesn’t overwhelm the existing community with 100s or 1000s of new users in a short amount of time)
- Don’t be afraid to say “no” to features (everyone’s going to want feature X or thing Y in the community, but it’s important to maintain a razor-sharp focus. If it doesn’t make sense to in the big picture, don’t do it).
So there you have it. I’ll try to update this post as I think of more things. Discussion on Hacker News. Feedback is welcome: kyle@[my first and last name].com