Online Community Summit, Sonoma, CA

Jim Cashel of Forum One Communications organized the second annual Online Community Summit. Perhaps 20 veteran community managers and “serial entrepreneurs” attended, about an equal number of newcomers looking to add community features to their sites (especially from NGOs and advocacy groups), and a handful of venture, angel and philanthropic funders. About 60 people in all.

The mood was generally optimistic. Not only is there venture funding flowing in, but they’re starting to see real revenue streams, from subscriptions, from contextualized advertising, from partners who benefit from the community member’s business, and from selling summary data about the community as marketing reports.

Contrary to my father and my Saguaro Seminar colleague Tom Sander,, people here generally agreed with me that flashmobs are cool, because they are art and because they are rehearsal or exploration of what’s possible in coordinated action among strangers.

People were surprised that the political scene has emerged as a new source of innovation in online communities and social software, whereas it has lagged behind other sectors in using the Internet until recently. I was disappointed that Zephyr Teachout from Dean for America canceled at the last minute.

I got a lot of leads for my new 5-year NSF-funded research project (with co-PIS Bob Kraut, Sara Kiesler, Yan Chen, John Riedl, Loren Terveen, and Joe Konstan) on mining the social science literature for design ideas on how to motivate contributions to online communities. ePinions is trying to encourage contribution of more and better product reviews. Marc Smith at Microsoft wants to encourage contribution of bug reports and tech support answers in MS support forums and I expect to follow up with both. There was some interesting conversation about the crowding out of internal motivations when explicit incentives and/or rewards are provided.

I also had some great converstions with Jed Miller about online civic dialogues. He’s been working on plans for a very large scale dialogue on health care (500,000 people perhaps) and I’d love to use it as a testbed for the ideas I’ve been kicking around about how to distill dialogue with the participants doing the distilling in a distributed manner.

And I had several inquiries about advising various startups. In general, I like kibbitzing and brainstorming on projects (but not always having to do all the follow-through), so I may start doing more of this kind of work.

Did I mention that Sonoma is beautiful, with hills/mountains in the distance, sunshine and lots of nice restaurants? Mary Furlong, one of the founders of SeniorNet, saved her birthday celebration for a dinner with this group, because she liked the people so much last year. I, too, enjoyed the company at the dinners, where local wines were drunk…in moderation.

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About Paul Resnick

Professor, University of Michigan School of Information Personal home page
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