A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged community

John Battelle thinks we actually figured out online publishing a decade ago – and then we screwed it up. How? We handed power to the social networks:

Again, for emphasis: despite all the whizzy bang-y social media we’ve invented these past ten years, I HAVE NOT ONE CLUE WHO IS READING ME ON A REGULAR BASIS, NOR DO I KNOW WHO TO THANK FOR SENDING THEM TO ME.

And in the pre-social media, blogs and websites days, we did. Why does this matter?

This is the single most immutable rule of media, folks. PUBLISHING IS COMMUNITY. And if you don’t know who your community is, you’re screwed.

Trolling – hostile, provocative anti-social behaviour – is one of the biggest challenges to any large-scale online community – and that includes comment sections on mainstream publications.

The problem is far, far bigger in the online gaming world, though. And one of the biggest games in the eSports sector – League of Legends – suffers particularly badly. The game’s publisher – Riot – is fighting back with huge studies, conducted with academic rigour, and shared with the academic community:

“We let loose machine learning,” Lin says. The automated system could provide nearly instantaneous feedback; and when abuse reports arrived within 5–10 minutes of an offence, the reform rate climbed to 92%. Since that system was switched on, Lin says, verbal toxicity among so-called ranked games, which are the most competitive — and most vitriolic — dropped by 40%. Globally, he says, the occurrence of hate speech, sexism, racism, death threats and other types of extreme abuse is down to 2% of all games.

2% is still substantial, but the approach here is certainly one community managers across the journalism world could learn from.

For those who aren’t aware, within Medium are several publications they run in-house, including Backchannel, a tech magazine, and Matter, which is an evolved form of the long-form science journalism crowd-funded startup which I’ve written about in the past.

And they’re open to pitches.

However, you might want to take a good look at what they require before you pitch away:

  • already be on Medium, writing, responding, highlighting, recommending and engaging with communities
  • be eager and excited to interact not only with users who respond to your story — but also users out on the platform obsessing over similar ideas and topics.

No “dump your copy and run” here – you’re expected to be part of the community, not just a supplier to it.

More publications should do this.

Once, long ago, when the world was dark, and I was stuck living in Lewisham, I was features editor of a magazine called Estates Gazette. We wrote about the world of commercial property, and one of the things I did was commission expert comment, including some features about property marketing and branding from one Kim Tasso.

She recently took Hazel and I to lunch (a brave thing to do with a toddler), and interviewed me in the brief gaps when my daughter was distracted by other things.

The result? Some thoughts on community development, content strategy and the commercial real estate business.

Worth a read, if you’re interested in the intersection of publishing, online community and B2B publishing amongst the professions…


The organizations that have the idea for a community, spend weeks selecting a platform, months developing it, and a year before they invite anyone to participate, tend to struggle…a lot. Typically they splutter along for six months before being mercifully cancelled.

I bet anyone who’s worked in community development within any sizable publisher is wincing right now.

Maslow needs WiFi
The very first time I saw someone use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in a corporate presentation, I was impressed. It tied the pyramid neatly to reasons for doing social activity around a magazine brand. It was clever, and gave intellectual weight to the presentation.

And then I saw it in another one.

And another.

And another.

And then I started getting suspicious. It was all too neat, too convenient. Human needs, all parcelled up in a tidy pattern of ascending importance. Simple.

But people aren’t simple, are they? And the more I looked at it, the less evidence there seemed to be to support that pyramid. The BBC have just taken a closer look and – surprise, surprise, it’s bunkum:

However, after Maslow’s death in 1970, researchers did undertake a more detailed investigation, with attitude-based surveys and field studies testing out the Hierarchy of Needs.

“When you analyse them, the five needs just don’t drop out,” says Hodgkinson. “The actual structure of motivation doesn’t fit the theory. And that led to a lot of discussion and debate, and new theories evolved as a consequence.”

So, next time you see that pyramid in a PowerPoint, remember that the speaker hasn’t done their research.

Zachary Neal

Liveblogged notes of Zachary Neal‘s talk on community integration and cohesion at the RSA.

In this talk he’s going to focus on micro networks. Are diverse communities possible? Tha answer’s grim: no. But there is a bright side…

He’s been thinking about community policy in the US; it’s fragmented and piecemeal. It’s more clearly articulated in the UK. In 2001 the Home Office came out with a report on community cohesion, which lead to the Commission on Integration & Cohesion. In 2010, the Cabinet Office made it clear it was important as part of the Big Society rubric. 

This is the right direction – but there’s a hidden problem, a policy paradox. It’s not clear how integration and cohesion interlock. Are more integrated communities more cohesive? Or are more integrated communities less cohesive?


In segregated communities, similar people live near one another.  In integrated communities, different sorts of people are more evenly mixed through the neighbourhood. 

Social networks

In fragmented communities, people have disconnected social networks. In cohesive communities, people have dense special networks. 

Making Friends

How do people develop social networks; how do they come together?

Homophily – birds of a feather flock together. This is a nearly universal characteristic – it applies to animals, cities and protein interactions. It can be stinger or weaker. But it’s not about aversion. It’s more about opportunities to meet.

Proximity – near things are more related than far things. Works for all sorts of things, but people especially. 

They create hypothetical communities, and think about what the social networks might look like, assuming moderate homophile and proximity. Moderately segregated communities are moderately cohesive. Highly segregated communities are more cohesive. They see this time after time. And on the other end of the spectrum, highly integrated communities are much less cohesive. 

Conclusion: homophily and proximity means that making communities more integrated makes them less cohesive.

The Policy Problem

Are we stuck with this? Or can we shift to a world of integrated, cohesive communities? At any strength, homophily and proximity push against this. So, can we get rid of homophily? Can you imagine a world where you only became friends with people unlike you? Unlikely.

The other possibility is getting rid of proximity – making people more likely to become friends with people a long way away. Again, seems unlikely.

To create a integrated, cohesive world people need to avoid their neighbours, or avoid “birds of a feather”. But is that a world we want to live in? It seems to him that it’s not a world he wants to live in, or is it clear it’s even possible.

Is our policy initiative aiming for an unobtainable goal? Should we be striving for a balance instead? Could some communities benefit from more integration, some from more cohesion? 


Zachar Neal Q&A

Is there a Goldilocks point where you have sufficient cohesion, without becoming a monoculture?

It’s hard to identify that. Maximising cohesion is not necessarily our goal. Cohesivie communities tend to be very stagnant. Ideas stay within them, they don’t innovate. More fragmented networks mean you receive lots of different information, opening the way to innovation. 

How possible is it to change the tradeoff through skilled network interventions?

The easiest work – under the name the contact hypothesis – worked poorly. The way way to break down boundaries is through friends of friends, not forcing unlike people to live next to each other. It’s difficult to create an intervention to create this friends of friends, though. We understand what’s need, but not how to do it.

Is a better understanding of social networks relevant to policy?

For centuries governments have been collecting census data and using it to set policy. The problem is that census data treats each individual separately – we need to look at how people relate to one another. That move sue beyond the simplistic individual analysis. Social networks are providing us with those tools. Pretty much everything we do is driven by the people we know. 

In the states, we see naturally occurring retirement communities. They’re not moving, just finding each other and supporting each other.

The internet and faster transport are eroding the proximity effect. Now it’s possible to carry on long-distance friendships without meeting, or to form retirement community snot based on spacial proximity. 

We’re seeing two types of relationships emerge online. There are those relationships that become offline relationships, and then we’re seeing the low level “Facebook” relationship, formed with just a click. Use of the internet to form real world relationships is one way of reversing these trends.

Who funds you?

This is unfunded work. 

Is computer analysis of networks is incredibly naive – possibly even wrong? 

This is an early version of a much larger model that will include many other characteristics. This models will never capture what’s going on in people’s heads. It’s a purely structural models – that gives us some idea of the boundaries within which policy can be set. There’s nothing random in networks – just things that are hard to predict and things are very hard to predict. 

Is the term “proximity” a problem? Facilities can bring people together, but not at the same scale you’re talking about. Is the very idea of neighbourhood a problem in this?

In this model proximity just means the things immediately around your house. Your point is that proximity can mean proximity to facilities. Public schools can allow parents to form relationship and networks around that school. Charter schools create more fragmented networks. The way we design these public facities can effect the social networks in the area. 

What about Universities? Or social media?

Universities are one of those nuclei that networks form around. But there’s still an element of homophily, around university education, around subject matter. Online social networks don’t seem to be translating into offline relationships. They could be used to reduce the effect of proximity, though, through maintaining relationships established face to face over greater distance. 

My thoughts

I really want to read his book. The model he’s presenting sounds like a good, but simplistic start on understanding the variables underlying community – that can’t quite stand up the claims being made, because there are more factors in play that the model accounts for. His approach to the effects of online networking on relationships seemed simplistic and on the borderline of wrong – but it feels like he’s doing good work challenging some of the assumptions around community policy. 

Daniel Ha, CEO of Disqus, writing for WIRED:

But for too long, the debate about online discussion has been about the commenters. We need to move away from pointing the finger at pseudonyms or anonymity as the sole problem, because it’s not. Instead the debate needs to shift to what kinds of online communities we are creating because I’m a firm believer that if we build better online communities, we will have better discussions.

There are two things people who are critics of comments on blog posts or news articles rarely mention:

  • Community management: As Daniel suggests, how you shape and manage the conversation determines both the community you develop and the tone of the comments that are left. 
  • Scale: most of the arguments are based on experiences in high-traffic, general interest subject areas. This is obvious and intuitive; those places where you can get the most attention are most likely to attract those who want to win attention through disruption.

Fundamentally, comments are a social problem, and the best solutions to problems with them are social rather than technological. 

Community folks at NEXT BerlinSome community-related links, mainly for my community and social media module students at City University – but shared for the betterment of all…