Before Wikipedia was created, there were seven very similar attempts to build online collaborative encyclopedias. Before Facebook, there were dozens of very similar social networks. Why did Wikipedia and Facebook take off when so many similar sites struggled? Why do some attempts to build communities online lead to large thriving communities while most struggle to attract even a small group of users?
This class will begin with an introduction to several decades of research on computer-mediated communication and online communities to try and understand the building blocks of successful online communities. With this theoretical background in hand, every student will then apply this new understanding by helping to design, build, and improve a real online community.
Building Successful Online Communities focuses on the hearts and minds behind the screens. Using elements of social psychology, group dynamics, and more as guideposts, Mako showed us how online platforms can be configured to shape users’ behavior and stimulate growth. The course offered a refreshing mix of theory and pragmatism: the first half was dedicated to learning/practicing concepts (largely through Wikipedia exercises), while the second half allowed us to apply our knowledge as consultants for local organizations. Though class discussion was frequent, introverts shouldn’t worry—Mako’s enthusiasm helped ease conversation along. All CommLead students, regardless of track, should consider taking this course—its lessons on understanding and managing the human element of digital networks are invaluable for today’s communications professionals.