When I write about community management, I speak from my experience managing communities over the last 12 years. What aides that experience is the variety of roles that I have had. I have owned communities, launched new communities and grown them, managed large communities and I have been a moderator for someone else, on numerous occasions. So, I know what it is like to be a volunteer member of staff and to commit yourself in that way.

On December 14, the final SitePoint Podcast was released. That marks an end to my time as a volunteer staff member for SitePoint, one of the largest web development resources in the world. 11 years, 4 months, 4 weeks and 1 day. That’s a really long time. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on this period of my life that I spent as a volunteer staff member.

SitePoint Forums

I joined the SitePoint Forums on October 1, 2000. At that time, there were about 40,000 posts, 6,000 threads and 2,500 registered members. Because of my contributions, I was invited to join the forums staff. The staff has multiple tiers, starting with Mentors. This group doesn’t really have any power as far as the forum software goes – they are more there to report questionable content, offer feedback in the staff section and help members in various ways. I became a Mentor on July 15, 2001, when there were around 175,000 posts, 25,000 threads and 7,000 members.

The next tier of staff is Advisors, which are your traditional global moderators. They were eventually sorted into teams (with Team Leaders) that focus on specific content areas, but the moderation abilities extend to all of the public forums. I become an Advisor on October 9, 2002. By then, the community had 540,000 posts, 70,000 threads and 17,000 members.

I learned a lot about moderation and community management while at SitePoint. It grew to become a very large community and that creates interesting situations for moderators. During my time on the forums staff, I worked under at least 5 Administrators and at least 6 Team Leaders. Some of them, I liked more than others. That’s natural. But, a lot of lessons were learned. No matter who I worked under, I still was a member of the team and I still put the best effort forward.

There came a time when I decided that I was ready to move on and resign from staff. With a community as large as SitePoint, it is natural for things to go in a lot of different directions and there were things I didn’t like about the direction the staff was heading. That led to me becoming a bit disenfranchised. That isn’t to say that I felt the administrators at the time were doing a bad job – I liked them fine. It was a challenging situation. Managing volunteers can be hard.

It was weird because right before I decided to resign, I had been offered a Team Leader post, which was something you could say I’d be working toward for years. But, now that I was finally offered it – I didn’t want it because the way I would run my team would have made it too different from the others. When I conveyed this, the idea was floated that they could create a new role for me as a sort of director of moderation, to streamline the moderation processes and work as quality assurance to, more or less, keep everyone operating at a consistent level. It was an effort to keep me and I appreciated that.

I was intrigued by it, but at this stage, felt that it would have been too much responsibility for me not to be compensated. I would, essentially, be the unpaid bad guy. In the end, I declined. It wasn’t easy for me to do that. I recommended that someone else be given the Team Leader role and the person I recommended ended up being offered that post.

When I resigned from the forums staff on September 30, 2008, the community had grown to 3,936,611 posts, 549,968 threads and 290,579 registered members. I had been a member of staff from 175,000 posts to 3,936,611. As I write this post, the community is now at 4,524,526 posts, 816,243 threads and 501,783 members.

SitePoint Podcast

Prior to my resigning, I had been working with a couple of other staff members on a new project – the SitePoint Podcast. Even though I was leaving the forums staff, I was already on the podcast team and decided to continue with that project, excited to work with a couple of friends. We recorded a pilot and released it for staff to listen to on October 15, 2008. This was followed by the release of the first public episode on November 10.

Over the last 4+ years, we’ve hosted the podcast. For the pilot, we had Brad Williams, Stephan Segraves and me. Kevin Yank joined us for episode #1. Kevin left and Louis Simoneau joined the team. Our last lineup change was when Brad left. Kevin Dees joined in. We also had two producers: Carl Longnecker and Karn Broad.

We did a lot of things. Group shows. Interview shows. 2, 3 and 4 person shows. Live shows. In-person shows. We won an award (the .net Magazine Award for Podcast of the Year). Every week, we spoke to an audience of thousands. For me, every other week, it was a chance to talk with my friends, laugh a lot and connect with a great community of listeners. We accomplished a lot with it and produced a program that we’ll all be proud of for a very long time.

Recently, though, it became clear that it was time for it to end. We wanted it to be more and that just wasn’t in the cards. That’s alright because rarely does something end in a perfect way. As far as endings go, this isn’t a bad one. We really left at the top of our game and at the top of the show’s popularity. 4 years, 1 month, 4 weeks, 1 day, 193 episodes and 6.79 GB of podcasts later, we brought the program to a close in a really great, meaningful way. We brought everyone together for one last time.

In addition to my work on the forums and podcast, I also wrote a number of articles for SitePoint, worked as a reviewer for “The PHP Anthology: Volume I: Foundations” and “Volume II: Applications” and an expert reviewer for “Online Marketing Inside Out,” a trio of books that they released.

What Did I Get Out of It?

When it comes to being a volunteer staff member, one of the most common reasons that people do it is to give back. They have enjoyed something and they want to help it stay as great. They enjoy helping and being a part of the team that makes that so. I believe that was true for me, especially at the start. As explained, I also picked up a lot of experience that would serve me as well as I managed my own communities, experience that helped shape my view of community management.

As far as money or things, SitePoint sent me several gifts over the years, including a gift certificate or two. Some of the gifts were aimed at improving the work for them, such as some podcast related equipment. I also received all SitePoint books from the second or third one through me leaving the forums staff. SitePoint also paid for a small portion of a trip I took to a conference, where I did a live podcast and did some interviews for the show. I was paid for one article and to be an expert reviewer on that one book.

I gained a deeper experience of various practices that help me professionally, like web hosting and monetization. Being a visible member of the community afforded me attention within the community, which led to some interest in my work and traffic to my websites. I also derived a lot of enjoyment from the community over the years.

Perhaps the greatest thing that I gained from the community is a majority of my closest friends and a larger network of cool people that I am glad to know. When I think of the people in my life that I really consider my friends, outside of my family, it is amazing how many of them I met through the SitePoint Forums. Brandon Eley, Chrispian Burks, Stephan, Brad, Ted Sindzinski, Jeremy Wright and others. I’m very grateful for those relationships.

Thank You

In conclusion, I’d like to take a moment to thank SitePoint for the experiences, the friends and the opportunities. Thank you to the administrators I worked under in the forums, including Wayne Luke, Nicky Danino, Thomas Rutter, Sarah Large and Shayne Tilley. Thank you to the Team Leaders I worked under, including Jeremy, Ady/Fluffykins, John Conde and Stephan. Thank you to my fellow Mentors and Advisors, especially those who took the role seriously. Thank you to the various SitePoint administrations and leadership, including Mark Harbottle, Matt Mickiewicz and Luke Cuthbertson and the office people that I’ve had meaningful interactions with over the years, including Georgina Laidlaw, Sarah Hawk, Matt Magain as well as all of the SitePointers that I’ve chatted with or met in person over the years. The community is in good hands with Sarah.

Thank you to Brad, Stephan, Kevin Yank, Louis and Kevin Dees for being great people to podcast with and Carl Longnecker and Karn Broad for making us sound good. Thank you to all of the listeners of the SitePoint Podcast and everyone who supported the show. The outpouring of support and appreciation for the show has been awesome.

I’ll always have love for SitePoint.