I'm way behind in my course blogging assignments, but am determined to catch up, one by one. The last one I missed was to locate an example of an online forum and post it here, along with 1) an assessment of identifying features you might look for in an online community and 2) what if any additional facilitation might be valuable.
There are so many great examples, it's hard to focus on just one, but my task is made a little easier by the requirement that the forum be open to the public...
One of my favorite open-to-the-public online communities is Zaadz, now the Gaia Community. When it started it got a lot of support from face to face communities like the Integral Institute and the folks at Yes! magazine. That kind of ready-made membership buy-in was of immeasurable benefit to them, and they also had great media relationships with other trendy publications like Ode who avidly promoted them.
As may already be clear from the kind of support they received right off the bat, they had a shared set of values going for them; a change-the-world, "spiritual but not religious" idealistic orientation that was very attractive to a certain audience, including me and many of my friends.
The sense of shared values or common concerns is one of the identifying features of this community, and most others I'm aware of, at least on one level. Another is the kind of generous interaction that sprang up almost immediately - the willingness to communicate with, listen to and help each other is another key trait of online communities.
Among the many other factors that led to their success, the Zaadz team were extremely efficient and effective in fostering a certain kind of facilitation - largely volunteer community efforts looking to find and weave the connective tissue among the growing membership.
There was from the beginning a lot of communication between the "staff" and the larger populace at Zaadz. The founder himself was extremely accessible and open to feedback and ideas from the group and he gathered a small management team around him that felt the same way. It was a pleasure to support these guys, and they were so good at seeding support in the community that it was soon very hard to tell who was actually staff and who wasn't.
While I am still in contact with many of the people I met through Zaddz I am much less involved with the day to day goings on there at Gaia than I was in the first few years - not because they've lost anything, but because I've gained in busy-ness. I dip in from time to time and the community spirit still seems strong and delightful. I still hear about new and exciting developments in the creative and spiritual fields there, and retain friendships with people and access to projects I want to know about.
Membership in the Gaia Community is free, and it has remained so throughout the acquisition/transition process as a result of open conversations within the community. That collective decision making process alone is testiment to Gaia's stature as an exemplary online community.