I, like you, have spent my entire life inside a community. Our communities may have been located in different geographies, but the rules governing the growth and health of those communities was likely the same.
Communities exist for a single purpose: to provide security for the members of the community. By living by a set of agreed upon laws and customs, each member of the community can view other members as friends.
All mankind, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions. — John Locke
Online communities are often similar. Where things diverge from a physical community is in the anonymity that the Internet provides.
I can say anything without fear of a direct reprisal, which would cause the feeling of safety to evaporate destroying the community. Right?
Yet, this doesn’t happen often online, why?
A community is always formed in basically the same way. A group of people get together. They decide on a set of rules to live by (either implicitly or explicitly), and they eject anyone that decides to not live by those rules.
It is in this construct that anonymous online communities like 4chan can exist. The people using 4chan (warning: cute kittens and the most evil shit you have ever seen) all decided what the rules are, when new people join the community they submit to the rules, and those that don’t follow the rules are often ejected either directly or through shunning.
With each app, early on, the content was a free-for-all. Every question on Jelly was simplistic, every answer snarky (or at least poor humor). Wut had a ton of random, snarky and frequent updates, and secret went dark, with the first couple of days being the mentioning of names with rapid vitriol responses.
But, as things do, over time, they moved towards the moderate, and each community gained its own voice. Jelly lost its snark. It’s still trying to figure out what are the best kinds of questions to ask and it seems to be focused on building a community of answerers, but it tends to have non-multiple choice questions and the answers have started to extend beyond one or two-words to include meaning and context.
Wut has become more of a closed discussion among friends — quick updates on location, on get togethers or random comments. Its like Twitter married Foursquare.
In fact, when I left an extended extemporaneous Wut, I got called out to “put that shit on Secret.”
And, Secret, the most feared of all, has seemed to moved rapidly towards positivity. With very few posts asking for feedback on an individual and most of the posts being interestingly supportive, with posts of support around folks looking for jobs, dealing with heartbreak, building businesses and all the other natural things that friends support friends around.
A Secret example:
As someone who is bipolar, depression is a fact of life. Along with depression comes thoughts of suicide. I have had them since I was twelve, with the severity and frequency ebbing over time. On some days, things get dark, and a few days ago, I posted on Secret “Thoughts of suicide getting louder.” I wasn’t anywhere close to taking my life, but I was sadder than usual.
In less than an hour, I had 54 comments, all supportive, including at least one with a phone number.
Every social startup that launches hope to have a large, organic community organize around their product. They hire community managers and product managers spend a lot of time thinking about how to increase engagement.
Jelly, Wut and Secret, each different in application, have at it core, the need to build and cultivate a vibrant community to succeed, and in order to do so, they must remember the first community rule:
He shall guide them with knowledge and instruct them in the mysteries of wonder and truth in the midst of the members of the community, so that they shall behave decently with one another in all that has been revealed to them.
* I understand it is weird comparing Jelly a Q&A/search app with Wut and Secret both anonymous status apps. But at their core, their communities are the same.