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This is something that I am asked somewhat regularly, when I’m doing an interview or someone is looking to start a community.

Of course, that is a really generic, vague question and it lends itself to a generic, vague answer. There is so much one could say. It’s a big topic. Yes, I have a million tips. How much time do we have?

We don’t usually have much, so I try to talk about a few foundational concepts that I feel would apply to most people. Here are some of the things that I usually mention.

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My friend Jared W. Smith recently sent me a link to and asked for my thoughts on an article on TechCrunch by Sarah Perez, “The Best Platform for Online Discussion Doesn’t Exist Yet.”

Ms. Perez laments the current state of online comments and discussion, saying that TechCrunch has been missing the “sense of community that blog comments once provided.” Hence their switch to Livefyre. “But there‚Äôs no system alive that can bring that [sense of community] back, because that era of the web is over. And it has been for a long, long time.”

Tired of short comments and noise, she wishes that more people would take the time to read an article and comment in long form. The proposed solution is some sort of system that tells you whose opinion’s carry more weight. Ms. Perez criticizes commenting systems for “competing on features” like crowdsourced anti-spam techniques because they don’t “really improve the nature of online discussion.”

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Google+ Communities just launched, providing a way for anyone to create a discussion group or forum, as part of Google+. Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges that the service faces is how some people are hyping it. Let me get a few things out of the way.

Google+ Communities does not change anything. Things are exactly the same today as they were the day before the functionality launched. Google+ Communities is not anything new, except within the world of Google+. Google+ Communities does not, will not kill anything, whether a specific branded platform (like Facebook) or a type of platform (like forums).

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Last week, I wrote about the practice of creating fake accounts to seed a community and why you should never lie to your community.

But, “getting a community going is hard,” some might say. “You need activity to entice people to join,” they might also say. “If I can’t lie to my potential members, what can I do?”

In short? Actual work.

It isn’t easy to get a community going. That’s true. It’s also true that one of the factors that determines the attractiveness of your community is the activity that people see when they first visit it. There is nothing wrong with seeding, as long as you treat your members with respect. Let’s talk strategy.

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Desicions....
Creative Commons License photo credit: LOLren

As people endeavor to add more features and sections to their forums and communities – more than “just” discussion threads – there is a great opportunity for additional value for all parties involved. But, in the thirst to be “more,” it can be easy to forget the cost that you may incur.

This can include things like articles and dedicated editorial, product reviews, Facebook-like profiles with comments and a wall, member blogs, chat rooms, wikis, photo albums and plenty of other dedicated sections that receive top billing, or close to it, on your community.

These sections can all be great, meaningful parts of your community. So, what’s the problem?

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clxvii
Creative Commons License photo credit: smplstc

This is a guest post from Benjamin Plass, a ManagingCommunities.com reader, who is the Head of Community Management for Goodgame Studios.

Every community manager has goals. Everyone wants their community to grow. The forum structure influences this growth. It is therefore very important to understand and adjust it to your needs and overall goals.

To make your community grow, you have to engage your first time visitors and new members. The conversion from reader to a posting member is a big step and as Patrick has discussed, the majority of your users will just be reading.

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The sixth post ever published on ManagingCommunities.com was about “brain crack” and the importance of doing, care of some magical words from Ze Frank.

By the time I wrote that post, in February of 2008, Mr. Frank had ended “the show with ze frank,” where those words had come from. More than 4 years later, at the end of February, Mr. Frank launched a Kickstarter campaign to “bring back the show.” The result? $146,752 pledged by 3,900 people (including me) – almost 3 times his goal of $50,000.

I could say something here about the power of community and about how community builds around quality and that being why people couldn’t wait to support him in this new venture. All of that is true.

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I have been thinking a bit about the design of the block feature on some platforms. Let’s take Twitter as an easy example.

When you block someone on Twitter, they don’t notify the person you block, meaning that they don’t specifically send them a message. But, when the person notices that you are no longer showing up in their timeline, they may go to your profile and try to follow you again. At that point, they are notified that they can’t follow you because you have blocked them.

Personally, this means I will never use the block functionality. Even though I might otherwise like to filter some people out of my streams. If I want to do it, I’ll need to use a third party application (like TweetDeck) that allows me to filter out tweets from specific people. I won’t bother to do that because the list only works in that app.

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Update: This was an April Fools’ Day joke.

I am deeply saddened to announce that online forums have died, as confirmed by areforumsdead.com. They passed away quietly in their sleep last night at an unknown age.

While it may be unclear when online forums were born, from the moment that people were able to discuss something with another human over the internet, it wasn’t long before they were having threaded discussions.

Online forums and the format of threaded discussion served as a cornerstone of the social internet and what would one day, many years later, come to be known as social media.

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random highway shots
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kdt.

Josh Barraza asked if I could write about merging two active online forums and the issues that can challenge such an idea. Thank you for the suggestion, Mr. Barraza.

Multiple forums can be merged. It doesn’t just have to be two. It can be more than that. But, for the sake of this article, to keep it simple, we’ll speak as if it is two forums that are merging into one, since that is the most common scenario.

When two forums are merged, the two separate databases are consolidated into one, meaning all members, posts and content will now constitute a single forum. If one forum had 400,000 posts and another had 300,000 – there is now one forum with 700,000 posts.

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