Before and AfterOn Tuesday, Twitter made a seemingly small, but not quite insignificant change. They replaced the star icon with a heart. The tweets that had been marked as “favorites” previously, were now marked as “likes.”

Twitter released a video when they announced the change (embedded below), where they provided a sample list of emotions and statements that could be indicated by using the heart icon. These included “yes!,” “congrats,” “LOL,” “aborbs,” “stay strong,” “hugs,” “wow,” “aww” and “high five.”

Whenever Twitter makes a change, there are complaints. That doesn’t mean the change isn’t worthwhile. And I’m not here to tell you this is a big deal. However, I do think there are some interesting dynamics at play, especially when it comes to how we manipulate user intent by retroactively applying new labels to previous user actions.

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Online community professionals in the U.S. are quite fortunate, legally-speaking, as compared to our counterparts in other countries, like the United Kingdom and Australia.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is a big reason for this. It might be the most important law on the books that relates to our work. It discourages frivolous lawsuits and allows us to host critical speech of the powerful, without serious fear of a lawsuit.

The Delfi ruling is a reasonable example of what can happen without it. A large company, and a rich man, demanded that an Estonian news outlet remove not only comments that vaguely threatened violence, but also comments that referred to the man as a “bastard” or a “rascal.” Even after they removed the comments, the company and man further demanded damages and, when rebuffed, sued the news outlet. A 9 year legal battle ensued – and the news outlet lost.

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Companies who sell products, especially high-end goods and those that stand for a certain mark of quality, should consider the power of community in the form of an owners club.

When I say high-end, that doesn’t necessarily mean $1,000 or $50,000 or $500,000. It’s relative. A high-end pen might cost $200. Obviously, a high-end automobile is much more. What is often true is that people who purchase a high-end good are making a commitment to a particular practice or interest. Not all of them are wealthy. Many save and plan to be able to make that purchase.

A person who buys a high-end woodworking tools is more passionate about craftsmanship than someone who buys cheaper ones. A person who spends $2,000 on a suit is excited about a certain level of dress. A person who spends $300 on a pen finds more enjoyment from the act of handwriting (or simply collecting pens). On average, anyway. Cost doesn’t always equal quality, and spending money isn’t always indicative of true interest. However, more often than not, someone who makes that type of commitment to a product has a much higher level of interest in what it stands for than someone who does not.

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The greats of tomorrow are in the online communities of today. They might even be in yours.

Even though online communities have been around since the 1980s, we are only a generation or two deep into mainstream usage of online communities. Where when someone is really into a subject, they seek out others online who are similarly motivated and driven.

I’ve seen this over and over again. My time at SitePoint is an easy example. In a setting like this, people who are self-motivated and driven often gravitate toward one another. I met so many people who have gone on to do great things and be recognized as leaders. They’ve climbed the corporate ranks at high-profile companies, founded successful ones, written books and done amazing work. That community was about programming, web design and business, so those are the pursuits they excelled in.

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Posted by Patrick on August 17th, 2015 in Thinking

A couple of years ago, I decided to (slowly) do some downsizing in my offline, physical life. I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the years, and it was time to trim down. It took several months (again, I purposefully went slow), but I rid of myself of many things. Sold, given away, recycled, donated and thrown in the garbage.

I’ll be moving soon, and I’m glad that the downsizing is already out of the way – even if I’m doing a little more now. But packing up has me thinking of the necessity to downsize in the context of the online communities that we manage.

There are plenty of moments where we need to think smaller, to cut away, to simplify. Let’s talk about a few examples.

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Credit: slgckgc (CC BY 2.0)

Credit: slgckgc (CC BY 2.0)

On Saturday, I went with my brothers to the “Weird Al” Yankovic concert in Newport News, Virginia. I’m a big fan of Weird Al, and it was our second time seeing him. He puts on a great show, and we had a lot of fun.

If you’ve never been to a Weird Al show, it’s a little different from your average music concert. During the performance, the physical energy of the crowd more closely resembles what you might see for a big name standup comic, rather than what you’d expect from the fans of a popular rap, rock or pop artist.

In general, when I go to a concert, I’m not among those moving the most. I stand, I clap, I bop along to the music. I don’t tend to put my arms up, scream, etc. I’ll sing along if the artist wants it or I feel just right. But I am not among the most animated in attendance.

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The vast majority of online communities are anonymous. The word “anonymous” can trigger all types of reactions. On one extreme, you might have some lowlife bullying and threatening another person. On the other end, whistleblowers. Most of us live in the middle.

But these communities aren’t anonymous as much as they are “share what you want.” Frequently, people will share quite a bit. This is very common, especially in niche communities.

I manage a martial arts community and, in general, many of the members that stick around, and become invested in our community, are the same members who share a lot about themselves.

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This whole reddit thing is interesting. Not just what happened on reddit, but all the analysis of it. For the most part, people are focusing on what reddit did wrong in 2015. Not many are talking about what they did wrong in 2005 or 2006.

Whatever you think reddit’s issues are or have been, know that they are foundational in nature. The culture of reddit is deeply engrained. How reddit responds to change now is a direct result of choices reddit leadership made early on. They wanted to create a particular type of environment, and they succeeded.

But the reddit situation really doesn’t offer us any new lessons. All of this is really old community business, handed down to us by the ancients.

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“Don’t read the comments” is a common refrain these days.

Many comment sections – and communities, forums, Facebook pages, Twitter hashtags and wherever else we’re talking – are full of terrible things, thoughts and people. Terrible in the mind of the beholder, anyway.

“Don’t read the comments,” they say. “Never read the comments.”

That excites me.

To me, “don’t read the comments” is an opportunity. Because I know great comments and great communities are possible. I’ve spent my entire career building them. I’ve participated in them. I’ve met some of my closest friends in them. I want others to have that same experience. It’s not far-fetched at all. It’s very possible.

While there is magic in a great comments section, there is no magic to creating them. The answer, as always, is moderation, which is simply a mix of tools, people and strategy. You need all 3.

“Don’t read the comments” shouldn’t discourage us. It should be a rallying cry. There is work to be done. Let’s go do it.

Have you ever launched an online community independently, with no budget? Without someone else’s money? Without a team supporting you? Without the resources of a larger organization? If you’ve never done it, and you really want to grow as a professional, give it a try. If you run community for a big brand, start an unrelated community on the side, in your free time.

I’m not talking about a Twitter following or a blog or something like that. I’m talking about a hosted online community where all contributions are equal and people engage with one another. A place where you are responsible for everything. Something goes wrong? You have to fix it.

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