Online communities work like parties

Recently, I’ve come across several blog posts using the metaphor of a good party to describe well-functioning online communities. Paraphrasing Matt Mullenweg, founder of the WordPress project, Service Untitled sums up the metaphor thus:

Parties that are successful bring the right number of people together. Those people end up having a good time and having fun. They will hopefully come for whatever their purpose is and achieve that sort of goal (having fun, learning, meeting people, etc.). When people achieve their particular goals and have fun, they leave feeling happy.

Good parties almost always have good hosts. It is their job to keep the size of the space appropriate for the number of guests, plan the party, get people involved, and keep things rolling. The host not only needs to be the organizer of many things, but sometimes the life of the party and cheerleader. Sometimes this is is necessary, but not always.

One or two bad guests can ruin a party and make it miserable for almost everyone. A space that is too large or too small for the number of guests can make for a bad party. A party with a terrible host will likely be bad. Sometimes parties are really great or really bad for no apparent reason.

Now replace every use of the word party with community, every use of the word guest with member, and host with community leader.

Lee LeFever
, who probably first made up the metaphor, lists all the ingredients which a good party and an active online community have in common. Unsuprisingly, his conclusion is simple:

In the end, if you’re truly interested in online communities, the most important ingredient is you. Without people who care about the community and are willing and excited about making it work, it will not succeed.

This sounds misleadingly obvious, but in my experience, it’s true. The open source projects that I’ve taken part in all work hard to maintain a solid focus on what they have in common and how to have fun doing it. Ubuntu uses a Code of Conduct to ensure the good intentions of its participants, while two Subversion developers have made a very successful talk on “How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous People (And You Can Too).”

Concerns which are very similar to those of discotheque managers and bouncers. And I suppose the tools of kicking and banning aren’t really that dissimilar…

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