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      From the experience of TalkPhysics and from research. Jon Clarke, 21/4/2011.

      Learn from others’ experience

      For instance, attended 2010 “PARN Conference on The Future of Member Networks”  (Collins 2010):

      1. Listening: what/who’s out there?

      2. Objectives: business goals, tangible results?

      3. Technology: usability, scalability, configurability and insight

      4. Seeding: who are your top 5% people/users?

      5. Recognition: reward engagement; provide relevant incentives

      6. Moderation: Ts & Cs; light but firm touch?

      7. Transparency: share, explain and consult; enjoy

      8. Maintenance: continuously evaluate and evolve

      9. Integrate: with offline, employees, CRM, consistent values

      10. Measure, Analyse, Learn: otherwise there’s no point

      Note that TalkPhysics is still not doing Recognition, and its Integration is weak in places.


      Do “usability testing on the cheap”

      Based on a very useful book (Krugg 2005), did usability testing with four potential users at zero monetary cost, about ten hours of staff time, and learnt a great deal about how to improve the site. Some of which we still need to implement…


      Ensure all posts receive at least one reply 

      Anyone receiving a reply to their first post is more likely to continue posting (Joyce 2006), regardless of the exact content of the reply.


      Need to pass threshold of group size 

      There is considerable evidence that there are minimum “critical mass” thresholds of group size and activity that must be passed before the group becomes self-sustaining (Caspi 2003, Raban 2010), however these depend heavily on context so I could find no quantitative predictions.


      TalkPhysics became self-sustaining in late November 2010. It had reached 3200 users in the main “News and Comment” group, of whom 2% made posts, so there were approximately 60 posters in one group. This was also one month after we fixed the worst problems identified during usability testing.


      Larger groups are better

      Larger groups significantly increase discussion in many different online contexts (Huffaker 2011, Caspi 2003).  


      Except for training

      However, for distance learning with one instructor and many learners, the group size should be around 20-25 (Twigg, cited in Caspi 2003). 


      Varied posters might be better


      Groups with a larger variety of people posting lasted longer in a very large quantitative study of IRC chat (Raban 2010), although this may be a consequence of longevity rather than a cause.


      Participation inequality is prevalent and irrelevant

      One author identifies a “90-9-1” rule for participation inequality (Nielsen 2006), and uses it to argue that website owners should aim to maximise participation by minimising these inequalities. At least one author who argues in favour of increasing participation equality on this basis (Booij 2011) cites precisely no quantitative studies. However, quantitative research (Huffaker 2011) shows that participation inequality does not significantly affect the amount of online communication in a group, and that “lurkers” are constructive members of the online community (Nonnecke 2000). 



      Booij, E. (unknown) Dissecting the Critical Mass of Online Communities towards a Unified Theoretical Model. Retrieved April 20, 2011 from: http://www.ebooij.com/downloads/Critical_Mass.pdf

      Caspi, A., Paul, G., Eran, C. (2003) The influence of group size on nonmandatory asynchronous instructional discussion groups. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from: http://www.openu.ac.il/Personal_sites/download/Avner-Caspi/Caspi_Gorsky_Chajut_2003.pdf

      Collins, M., Peter Jackson (2010) Professional Networking: Perspectives from the Field. http://www.shaneoneill.co.uk/i-Publishing%20Professional%20Networking.pdf

      Huffaker, D. (2011) The impact of group attributes on communication activity and shared language in online communities. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from: http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3450/2856

      Jones, Q. (2000) Time to Split, Virtually: Expanding Virtual Publics Into Vibrant Virtual Metropolises. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=926810&userType=&tag=1

      Joyce, E., and Kraut, R. E. (2006). Predicting continued participation in newsgroups. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(3), article 3. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol11/issue3/joyce.html

      Krugg, S. (2005). Don’t Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. New Riders.

      Nielsen, J. (2006, October 9). Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from useit.com: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html

      Nonnecke, B., & Preece, J. (2000). Lurker demographics: Counting the silent. Proceedings of CHI 2000. The Hague: ACM. http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBsQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fciteseer.ist.psu.edu%2Fviewdoc%2Fdownload%3Bjsessionid%3D7C67E954D971D9F108D86A35047AC9E7%3Fdoi%3D10.


      Raban, D., Mihai Moldovan, Quentin Jones (2010) An Empirical Study of Critical Mass and Online Community Survival. Retrieved from: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/connect/cscw_10/docs/p71.pdf 

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