Tara Hunt has a enlightening post about the fallacies of communities, pointing out two in particular.
So, Community Fallacy #1: healthy communities are happy communities.
And then, Community Fallacy #2: healthy communities are democratic.
As I mentioned the other day, creating a community is like growing a garden. And like a garden, you don’t just plant the seeds, sit back, and wait for things to magically appear. Instead you’re going to have to do a lot of work tending the garden, digging up weeds, and running out ‘wascally wabbits’ coming into it.
It’s no different with a community (or any good relationship for that matter). Everything will not be perfect because life isn’t perfect. Therefore, expect the unexpected and be prepared for those who want to mess up your community. Having said that though, you shouldn’t be kicking out people just because they are vocally upset about something. If anything, it’s usually the people that are the most vocal, that care about the community the most. Therefore, listen to what they have to say and dig deep to find out the root of the problem they are encountering because it may not be evident just based upon what they have to say but more upon what they are experiencing.
And yes, communities most definitely should not be democracies. So true and nice to hear this from someone else who agrees with this viewpoint. The reason for this, as Tara noted, is that you will get mired in the ongoing process of consensus which can literally cripple a community and create more friction than good. So what should be done instead? I’m not sure of the best way to describe it but I often use the king/queen and his/her counsel approach as a metaphor. Those in charge of the community are like the king and the people within the community are like the counsel. Therefore, just like a king listens to his counsel, acknowledging and respecting what they have to say, the final decision and direction to take is still always made by the king himself.
Now wait a minute, you might be saying, that means the king can do whatever he feels like then, people be damned? Not true at all. As I’ve repeatedly noted before, culture is the foundation of any good community and it should be defined as early as possible, even in the community’s inception if it can. The reason for this is that it not only lets those interested in joining the community know exactly what type of community they are getting into from the very start but it also sets the standard that the community founders must live up to in their actions as the leaders of the community as well. Therefore, the more earlier and clearly you can define your community’s culture or vision, the less likely you’ll encounter problems that can fracture your community and destroy it because everyone should be fully aware of the community’s goals and principles as a whole.
BTW to see a good example of a community’s culture or principles clearly defined, see the We Know bylaws which is a guild created by Joi Ito in the World of Warcraft. Just take note that they don’t have to be that elaborate though. For example, when I was part of a Counter-Strike clan some years back, we had only five simple community rules that were clearly displayed and vigorously enforced. Doing so, we were able to create a wonderful community environment that often reminded me of the Cheers bar (i.e. Norm!), as everyone within it was very open, sharing, and caring in wanting to help each other out.