Monday, February 2, 2009

The Art of Community

Not that long ago, I started reading The Art of Community. Jono Bacon is posting to this blog as he writes an O'Reilly book by the same name. You can read drafts of the first chapters here and here. I expect demand for this book to be high because communities are valuable but very difficult to create. Companies often envy the passion and personal investment that some open source communities have been able to inspire and they get frustrated when their community building attempts fail to thrive. Jono has been involved with Linux and KDE and currently serves as the Ubuntu Community Manager for Canonical so he knows a thing or two about open source communities.

I have written on the topic of evaluating the health of a community and have been approached by more than one software company looking for that special sauce to help create a self-sustaining customer community. One thing is for certain, communities are not built on tools - it takes more than a forum or a wiki to make a community. Tools like these can help an existing community communicate better but they can't establish a community where there isn't one. A successful community requires a purpose worthy of passion (for a great discussion on this, see "Would you Join a Toothpaste Community?"), leadership to help people productively focus their passion, and methods for people to get value out of their participation.

So far, the best book that I have read about the community aspects of open source software has been The Success of Open Source. The Art of Community will have a much greater focus on how to create a community. The table of contents looks like a manual for a community builder. One thing that I would like to see, but haven't yet, is a set of strategies for creating a passion-worthy purpose out of a seemingly mundane topic (like toothpaste).

Part of the writing process involves building a community of readers and harnessing their input. The project is still too young to see if there is any traction. I am looking forward to seeing how both the book and the community around it come together and if purpose, leadership, and value emerge.