Guidelines For An Online Community of Entrepreneurs

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

Q: I am starting an online community for technology entrepreneurs. Can you suggestion some guidelines I can use to help set newcomers expectations for what constitute valuable content and comments?

Here are some good guidelines and articles that I would start with, borrowing what makes sense and adapting it.

  • Hacker News Guidelines would be a place where I would start. In particular: defining what is on and off topic, how to write titles, and guidelines for leaving comments. Your rules may be different, your focus certainly is, but it would be a place to start.
  • The “Please Do” and “Please Don’t” lists on Reddit Reddiquette are definitely worth reviewing for things to include.
  • For “ASK BN” See Stack overflow how to ask a question for some specific suggestions worth considering for those posts

Finally A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy is a good article by Clay Shirky on design issues for social software (on-line forums and communities). I was fortunate to be in the crowd at O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference in 2003 to hear him give it. He’s someone I have paid attention to ever since, he is consistency insightful when it comes to social software and the Internet. The key points he makes that are apropos your question (these are all pull quotes from the article) :

  • You cannot completely separate technical and social issues.
  • Members are different than users. A pattern will arise in which there is some group of users that cares more than average about the integrity and success of the group as a whole. And that becomes your core group
  • The core group has rights that trump individual rights in some situations. This pulls against the libertarian view that’s quite common on the network, and it absolutely pulls against the one person/one vote notion. But you can see examples of how bad an idea voting is when citizenship is the same as ability to log in.
  • Users have to be able to identify themselves and there has to be a penalty for switching handles. The penalty for switching doesn’t have to be total. But if I change my handle on the system, I have to lose some kind of reputation or some kind of context. This keeps the system functioning.
  • you have to design a way for there to be members in good standing. Have to design some way in which good works get recognized. The minimal way is, posts appear with identity. You can do more sophisticated things like having formal karma or “member since.”
  • Three, you need barriers to participation. This is one of the things that killed Usenet. You have to have some cost to either join or participate, if not at the lowest level, then at higher levels. There needs to be some kind of segmentation of capabilities.
  • And, finally, you have to find a way to spare the group from scale. Scale alone kills conversations, because conversations require dense two-way conversations. In conversational contexts, Metcalfe’s law is a drag. The fact that the amount of two-way connections you have to support goes up with the square of the users means that the density of conversation falls off very fast as the system scales even a little bit. You have to have some way to let users hang onto the less is more pattern, in order to keep associated with one another.

For a good explanation of  the distinction between handles and identity see how Amazon distinguishes between “real identity” and “persistent handle” in their guidelines on “Pen Names and Real Names

Don’t Require Facebook to Login

Please don’t require a Facebook login: while I am interested in new tools that allow me to find insights in the large number of conversations going on around me I reserve my Facebook account for friends and family. I don’t know how many folks are like me, but I do not want to burden my friends and family with any messages auto-generated from your system (they already know more about my entrepreneurial activities than they care to) and I fear using a Facebook login opens the door to unwanted invites, updates, etc..

Deprecating Facebook

For more on why I am deprecating Facebook see


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