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Online Community Evolution: Key themes January 17, 2007

Posted by alwilliams in Online Communities.
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There are many different facets of online communities that proved problematic when looking at the competition between different kinds of online communities.  The top 5 are summarised as;

 1.  What exactly is an online community- does the traditional definition apply?

2.  On what basis do you group competitors together and class it as a market?

3.  How do we measure the size of online communities?

4.  How can we research whether the social interaction tools provided are utilised within the community?

5.  Different social tools are likely to have a different impact on community development

   a)  Which are more successful?

   b)  How can we measure this?

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 1.  What exactly is an online community- does the traditional definition apply?

The word online communities is certainly banded around without much thought for exactly what it means.  There needs to be a certain number of people for it to be a community (otherwise it is a group) and there needs to be a level of cohesion, that I suggest needs to go beyond the initial reason for the group interacting.  For example neighbours are not a community unless they move beyond just being neighbours.  If people on the same street do not talk to each other can it be classed a community or just a group of people all existing independantly but near each other? 

Ummm No I dont think so.

2.  On what basis do you group competitors together and class it as a market?

From this retrospective it is clear that when something slightly ‘different’ comes out a new fun acronym is born- although it is not fun as it aids confusion for people that are not ‘in the industry’.  Do we really need BBMMORPGs?  are they just not MMOGs? 

The difference between Runescape (browser based and classed an MMOG) and Habbo (browser based but not classed an MMOG) is the plug in.  This does not mean that Habbo is a BBSBMMOSG (browser based shockwave based massively multiplayer online social game) Ok so they may be trying to be accurate, but segmenting a market does not aid comparison which as I say is the most important thing for understanding the current situation.  Shower gel has different functionality (e.g. flip cap/ sports cap) and we do not create sub groups for that (although granted MMOGs have a larger impact on its consumers than shower gel)

3.  How do we measure the size of online communities?

Considering the different measures used for different competitors this is the million dollar question.  All the metrics applied to MMOGs have their problems and this is an industry wide issue that needs addressing.  I think that looking at the situation that there needs to be a new metric (Incidentally Neilson are looking at a new form of engagement metric) and one that includes stickiness and would incorporate session length.

4.  How can we research whether the social interaction tools provided are utilised within the community?

This is difficult but as all information goes through individual servers trigger words or combinations could be counted by the server to see how many times the gesture “/dance1” is performed.  This would be challenging to impliment and take up significant resources, which means this may not be of interest to producers in terms of revenue, but I would suggest would be priceless research to focus future developer’s and what social functionality they choose to impliment.

5.  Different social tools are likely to have a different impact on community development

   a)  Which are more successful?

Success would be those that aid the development of a community.  Those that influence the community as a whole rather than a select number of people.  Tools that facilitate social bonds to form gestures for example has had a massive effect as will sound when this reaches usage by the masses (again it is not enough to be used by a few number of people)

   b)  How can we measure this?

This is even more difficult and I guess would be a subjective form of qualitative study within the online community through ‘personal experience’.  Comparison studies could also be conducted that are based on traditional sociaological studies.  For example studies that have been conducted on the impact of NVC on community development could be applied to an online environment.

Here is a good starting paper that addresses this for an online environment;

http://comma.doc.ic.ac.uk/inverse/papers/patras/v1n3p201-211.pdf

A Retrospective of online communities January 17, 2007

Posted by alwilliams in Online Communities.
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Retrospective of Online Communities

Executive Summary

This essay analyses the market entrants and development of competition in the online community market from 1978 to 2006.  This competition is analysed in relation to Habbo.  The Johari Window model is applied to the online environment and is used to assess the facilitation of social interaction within key market players. 
Social interaction functionality and the development of online communities itself has continually evolved.  This has led to increasing competition in the market.  Competitors now offer numerous different functionality and methods for social interaction, with varying success. Habbo is identified as an MMOSG market and so this market represents the most direct competition.  MMOSGs also offer the greatest degree of social interaction tools and focus on developing an online community, which makes them the greatest threat to the market…………

competitor-matrix-current-evolution-small.jpg

For a full text version of this essay please email me at alistair.williams@sulake.com