From The Art Of Community by O'Reilly ( by Jono Bacon

Community: The Bird's-Eye View

Building a strong community is an exhilarating and rewarding prospect, but getting there can be complex. You only need to look at this book’s table of contents to see that the subject is hugely diverse and detailed.

We first need to step back and understand our broad aims. When we wake up and decide we want to build a community, what do we want to achieve? Aside from the goals of the community itself, be it building a software project, changing a political system, or whatever else, how do we inspire a collection of people to march forward as one? How exactly do we unite a people?

What is a Community?

A community is a scattered collection of dots. One of our first goals is to bring these connected areas of interest together into well-formed teams. These teams are important containers of expertise and interest inside our wider community.

If we think of a community as an interspersed group of dots huddled together over a shared interest (e.g., protesting a ludicrous law, discussing a topic, building an operating system), teams are the smaller subgroups typically based around a primary interest or skill set (e.g., advocacy and documentation) that helps forward that shared interest.

As an example, the Ubuntu community has a shared interest in building a Free Software operating system. To do this there are many smaller groups who perform translations, produce packages, write documentation, test software, advocate Ubuntu, and much more. These are the teams that we seek to build: to break our wider community into smaller, more manageable chunks. Each of these teams is united by solving a part of the grander aim of the community.

Constructing Teams

Teams are an essential construct in community building: they are not only the containers in which your community grows, but also convenient units of capability that help you to strategically understand and structure your community and find out what it’s capable of.

Although teams have a primary focus (typically a skill, such as art or documentation), you should not be too rigid in that focus. Every team will have members who are interested in this primary function but who will also bring other expertise and insight to the team. As an example, in a software community, it is hugely valuable for the art team to also have members with capabilities in programming: they can often expedite getting art contributions implemented in the technical development of the application. As such, encourage and optimize for membership based on the primary focus of the team, but also celebrate and make use of the other skills of your members.

Teams offer a wealth of opportunities and benefits in building a strong community.

Although constructing teams is valuable, it is not enough. As a unit of capability, a team is still part of a wider community that strives for a common goal. We need to ensure that our teams fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. Communication, ideas, and stories must flow freely between your teams.


The flow of communication between teams is a lot more complex than you would first imagine. How can you ensure an easy flow of ideas and progress between two teams who focus on different parts of the community? How does your art team communicate well with your development team? This opens up a huge array of questions. How do they communicate? What mediums do they use? How do they deal with geographic and time zone issues? How do they report their interactions to the wider community? How do they track progress? How do we understand how different teams work together? Not an easy problem to solve.

These questions are not merely about how two or three teams communicate. They get to the heart of the ethos of the community as a whole: the standard for how teams are structured, how they behave, and how they communicate.

As I mentioned earlier, although your teams have a primary focus (such as translations), there will be many other skills present in your teams, and many people will be in multiple teams. We need to not only foster effective communication between teams (such as regular meetings, progress checks, and shared communication mediums) but also to make use of people who have their feet in multiple teams. They can be the glue that sticks teams together. These people should absolutely be on your Christmas card list.

Contributor Growth

The next area to focus on is contributor growth.

When it comes to new contributors, we essentially seek to satisfy two primary desires: capacity and diversity.

With capacity, our goal is to provide more hands on deck. More (coordinated) hands generally mean that more things get done. Most communities have somewhat audacious goals, and these goals almost always outstrip the resources available to implement them. This bottleneck can cause burnout, but more immediately it generates a need to find more resources.

Attracting members to your community is one task, but attracting a diverse range of contributors is an entirely different ball game. Although not critical in a community, diversity has huge value: different skills, cultures, perspectives, attitudes, and experiences make for a richer community experience.

Building a Strong Environment

The final major step in building a strong community is in building a positive environment. Your community should feel inspired, engaged, and thrilled by the opportunity to achieve the goals they dream of.

Environment plays a huge role in everything that we do. Every element of our environment affects our perspectives, emotions, and expectations.

BuildingCommunity/CommunityTheBirdsEyeView (last edited 2010-09-07 00:39:07 by pendulum)