Lessons Learned Running A Community

Lessons Learned Running A Community Enabling Service
(Part one in an occasional series…)
With the current Groups downtime, some people have asked why Yahoo didn’t send an email out to all the users of the service beforehand announcing the service interruption. Instead, a notice was posted on the web site. This policy dates back to eGroups and ONElist. You’d figure that since Groups has the ability to send over 100 million messages a day, sending one little email to the 40+ million users of the service would be no big deal. And you’d be right. It was never a technical issue, it was instead a human issue.
With a group, you have a set of moderators and a set of members. Within this group, there’s a strong sense of ownership, especially among the moderators, or creators of the group. While the Groups system is used to create and maintain the community, the service is really secondary to the group itself. If you did a survey of Groups users, the majority will tell you that they are not Yahoo Groups users. They only identify with the communities they are subscribed to; the enabling mechanism of the community plays no factor. In addition, group owners have a strong bond with their users. Reflecting their subscribers’ feelings, most group owners feel that the members of their groups are their members, not Yahoo’s.
This sense of identity with a group on the part of users and the sense of ownership by the moderators is the core of what makes up a community.
Now, lets get back to the question of why Yahoo doesn’t send emails to all groups users about downtimes. It was quite clear when we tried this that the email was an intrusion. Group members, who identify with their groups and not the service itself, thought they were getting random spam. Group owners, who have a sense of ownership of their users, thought that we were spamming their users. This combination resulted in a barrage of complaints from both constituencies.
The moral of this story is that managing community services can pose unique challenges. But as has been proven, group communication is wildly popular on the Internet. Harness it carefully.