Managing online communities is a tricky business. I’ve seen many stories in traditional media citing examples of people at each others’ throats online. I know some elementary school PTO email groups in our area have turned so nasty that they had to be shut down. Now today I read a blog post by Simmons Buntin on Next American City about how the challenges of managing an online discussion for a planned New Urbanist neighborhood… wow. So even in a place where people move ostensibly to enjoy the benefits of a heightened sense of community, online discussion still turns sour?
Well, this bodes well for the Front Porch Forum model… where this negative stuff is largely absent. We’ve worked hard to nurture civil and constructive discourse among clearly identified nearby neighbors in the 130 online neighborhood forums that we host across our pilot area (Chittenden County, VT).
In fact, today in my role as “community manager,” I had to inject myself into a thread and close it off for only the third time in a couple years and 30,000 postings. The pattern has been the same in each case… a topic about which people feel passionate (dogs, slate roofs and historic preservation, and, recently, illegal drug activity) is introduced in an inflammatory way and people line up to take sides and start blasting each other.
We typically ask folks to keep it civil and constructive and, if they must attack, attack the idea and not people.
These steps and many others add up to only three “flame outs” in 30,000 postings… an amazing batting average so far.