If you work in the online community space, I encourage you to learn about the history of online communities. Not only is it interesting; it’s beneficial to the work we do today. A little knowledge can go a long way. If you aren’t sure where to begin, the video embedded below is a great, approachable start.

The video is a conversation between Howard Rheingold, a well known online community pioneer, and his daughter, Mamie Rheingold, a project manager at Google whose work also involves community. Titled “Past, Present, and Future of Virtual Communities,” it was recorded during the Google Developer Groups Global Summit in June and released last week. I found it care of Bill Johnston.

Mr. Rheingold offers so much great insight during the talk. It was interesting to hear that it took him 5 years to get a publisher to agree to publish his book, The Virtual Community. They told him that only electrical engineers would want to read it. It took me years to get Managing Online Forums published. I was told that past community books had sold poorly, so there was no interest in putting out another one. I also enjoyed his principles for growing community online:

  1. Don’t try to push the boulder up hill and convince the unconvinced. Instead, focus on the enthusiasts, the people who get what you are trying to do, and support them.
  2. Leadership comes from within the community. Identify the people in your community or organization who are engaging with the community – answering questions, introducing people, etc. Empower them.
  3. If you have rules, formulate those rules and make them simple before you start. In addition, have people agree to them before they join. Do not, under any circumstances, argue about what the rules should be online. It’s a black hole.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Put aside 50 minutes and watch the full video below.