Sunday, 18 January 2009

Who really owns a community website?

Added by Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago.

Today, I'd be interested in people's opinions on an awkward question about the culture of the Web. One or two details have been suppressed to protect the innocent.

For several years I have been an occasional user of a well-respected website with an active and public-spirited community of contributors who publish public domain material onto it for free download. More recently I have published some content on it myself and have begun to be involved in the community.

While the site has a few administrators, there are many tasks that can only be undertaken by the originator of the site, who is solely responsible for infrastructure and hosting and who spends a lot of money annually to keep the site going. He does ask for donations but these do not cover his costs. He has many other calls on his time. It is clear that the administrators have the skills, and the understanding of the culture of the site, to take a far greater part than they do. I also suspect that the site could be hosted both more effectively and more cheaply elsewhere, although the site has masses of useful content so traffic is high.

About a month ago, the site went down (major hard disk crash). It remained down for three weeks. We then discovered that the last backup had been taken in March 2007. While the originator thinks he will be able to retrieve some or all of the missing data, we have no timescale for this. We have been advised not to re-add the missing content ourselves.

The community's expressed view on all this seems to be gratitude to the originator for getting the site back up at all. My personal opinion is that the lack of regular backups is one example of a major difference in approach between the originator, who clearly sees it as entirely his site, and the community and administrators, who have invested a lot of effort in providing and policing content but who have no real control over the site.

So, who really owns a community website?

I'd be really interested in any comments on this matter.

Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago
Just thought I ought to mention that things have improved markedly at the website originally under discussion - following gentle (but insistent and growing) pressure from the community, as of the last couple of weeks we now have weekly backups, and we're even about to have a mirror site. What will be more interesting to watch is whether any control gets delegated. Various community members have been volunteering to help with the IT side, but so far there has been no response.

Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago
In a different (IT related) community with which I have been involved, I have seen members use the forum inappropriately (to articulate political views). In such situations tough leadership, with the ability to say "this is my forum and I won't accept this stuff on it", is mandated. But ... even a community that works well makes massive assumptions about the motives and preconceptions of its members. So, what does it do when something or someone appears to question this unwritten constitution? Defensiveness is a standard reaction, in my experience. Because Web communities typically only communicate using the written word, misunderstandings are frequent, and once people have walked off in a huff, there's usually no channel for apology. I think what's unusual about the community I referred to in my original blog entry is the fact that members have invested extensive time and effort in preparing and publishing large amounts of the content whose availability free of charge is the sole purpose of the community website. So there's masses of 'give' and actually not a vast amount of 'take'. I do accept that no-one should be expected to deliver a perfectly hosted website in their spare time and for nothing. But I'm really just interested in understanding the dynamics of such a community and the effects on its growth and effectiveness of enforced (and probably unnecessary) dependence on one individual.

... another comment ...

Mandy Shaw, about 1 year ago
Amazon are being really slow in delivering 'Wikinomics' to me - can't wait. I'm very interested in the Flickr example - that's a bit less awkward, since we are talking about a commercial organisation that people feel able to attack, but it still requires the community to, in your excellent word, mobilise - that's the hard bit, the vast majority of community members have very low expectations.

... another comment ... (I guess I should not copy other people's comments)

No comments:

Post a Comment