In May, celebrated 10 years online. I launched the forums on May 21, 2001 and have managed them ever since. 10 years, 4 months, 3 weeks and 1 day.

It may surprise you to learn that I am not a martial artist. As you might expect, this question comes up once in a while. “What martial arts do you take? None? Wow. So, why did you launch”

I’ve always been very open about this. I’ve never pretended to be a martial artist and have never been anything other than honest when the question is asked.

I started the site because I loved the idea and I thought that there was a need I could fill, for a work and generally family friendly martial arts community built firmly on the idea of respect, where you could join in, and expect civility, no matter what art you practiced.

When I found the domain name, James Dasher, a friend of mine, said that if I didn’t go forward with it, he would. I decided I wanted to give it a try, having no expectations but feeling good about the idea and the potential it had. And then 10 years go by.

The Trap

How can a community be successful if the person behind it is not actively engaged in the subject that the community is based around? How can a martial arts forum be successful if it isn’t run by a martial artist? And therein lies the trap that a lot of people fall into.

How successful you can be, as a forum administrator and community manager, is rarely tied directly to how much of the topic you know or understand. It is more often tied to how competent you are in that role and how much you enjoy the day to day responsibilities that you have.

Enjoyment is impacted by different things. You don’t want to manage a community around a topic that you find boring (I don’t find the martial arts boring and I enjoy reading through contributions and learning from them). But, just as important is you have to enjoy the idea of what it takes to run a forum. It is often a thankless task, sprinkled with individuals who want nothing more than to cause you pain or stress.

If you love the topic, but don’t love managing a community, you will probably not do well and it is a waste of your time to try. If you are an expert in the topic and love managing a community, then awesome (just be careful not to let your expertise overwhelm the community).

But, my point is that, of those two, the one that matters is the part about managing because the difference between participating in a community and managing one is that, when you participate, all you do is talk about the topic that you enjoy. When you manage, a very small portion of what you do in your role as administrator is talking about the topic.

If you participate in a forum and enjoy it, understand that the person behind it has many tasks and most of them have nothing to do with the topic. Removing spam and guideline violations, responding to site related questions and issues, writing guidelines, improving infrastructure and design, keeping the community online, managing the staff, setting a good example, taking abuse and more. If you don’t enjoy this or find it rewarding, you shouldn’t do it, no matter how much you love the topic. Success will come much harder and, besides, life is too short. Do something you like.

Managing a Community IS About Passion… For Managing a Community

One of the primary reasons that communities grow abandoned is because the person who started it finds that they do not like running the community. It is too much work, too time consuming, too stressful. They expected it to be easier. But, it’s not easy at all. It’s hard.

I love managing because I love, find the martial arts interesting and am passionate about online community. I love what we are, what we stand for and the level of interaction that we enjoy. I love how members treat one another and how people get help with sensitive issues in a kind manner. I am so proud of it.

Those things don’t happen by accident or through “luck,” they happen because of a lot of hard work and a gigantic investment of time, not only by myself, but also by members of my volunteer staff that enjoy the community so much that they want to help maintain the quality of it, so that they can continue to enjoy it.

And that staff is part of the reason I have been successful. It is somewhat rare when I have a martial arts matter that I need to know about, that affects the management of the community. But, when I do, I can always ask the staff, who are all martial artists, for their opinion. That opinion then guides me in the decision. I have carefully selected the members of my team and am thankful that I have had such a great group of individuals over the years.

The funny thing is that my lack of knowledge has actually been helpful sometimes, especially in those random instances where a member thinks I am biased because I removed something they posted because it violated our guidelines. I’ve had a member say something like “I think you removed my post criticizing Taekwondo because you, yourself, are a practitioner of TKD. You are biased!”

That statement amazed me. I am a practitioner of TKD? How ever did you get that idea? Certainly not from me. To be biased, you have to have some knowledge, however misguided. I have no knowledge. So, that part of it works out. Not that I would be biased if I had knowledge.

It can sometimes make me a target, as a member who doesn’t agree with a decision I’ve made or, perhaps, a banned member will use it to try to discredit me. “He’s not even a martial artist.” Ignoring the fact that they just private message spammed 50 people, personally attacked 5 members and compared a staff member to Hitler. How did you martial arts experience help you there? Of course, those people would probably find something else to hold against me, if not that.

What Really Matters

So, to break it down, here is why I believe I have been successful managing (or, really, what I believe truly matters):

  • I am passionate about managing online communities. The day to day, in the trenches stuff that must be done to ensure the community remains on track is the stuff that I feel I am good at (I might be wrong!). This, above all else, is what has led to me managing the community for so long.
  • I love the idea of the community and believe in it.
  • I surround myself with kind martial artists who help me to keep things on track and can offer me their martial arts knowledge in the infrequent cases where it is needed to make an appropriate decision. I approach those conversations as someone who wants to listen, not as someone who needs to demonstrate that they know something (whatever that is). I allow myself to be influenced by these individuals that have proven that they care about the community.
  • I find the topic to be interesting. I know little about it and will never portray myself as someone who knows the topic, but it is an interesting topic to read about. If I didn’t like the topic, I wouldn’t bother.

That’s my recipe. I believe that it takes all of them and that, if any of them was missing, I would not be the right person to run the community and I would be less successful. Being a martial artist wouldn’t hurt me, but it also doesn’t materially change the picture. This will vary by topic, but I believe that for most, it will be true. Passion for community is a requirement.