Setting the stage for participation

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Roland at Bryght has written a lovely profile of Vancity's ChangeEverything site. And there is much wisdom in it: is illustrative of an online community truism: after you have a solid and reliable technology infrastructure like Drupal to build an online community upon, the social i.e. the people part of the community matters more than the technology part.

Online communities succeed only if users participate. The number of opportunities to participate online is exploding (share your photos! rate your teachers! comment on this video!), but time is the new land: nobody's making any more of it. Increasingly, a user who decides to participate on your site is making a conscious decision not to participate on another one.

So for your online community to take off, you have to design for participation, starting with your concept. In the case of, that meant the simple idea of allowing people to think about the changes they wanted to make, and then blog about them.

But don't count technology out. We needed a clean, easy way for users to link blog posts to changes... and that's where some techno magic comes into the picture.

Enter Khalid Baheyeldin, one of the greats in Drupal development. We contracted with him to create the custom module that lets users link pieces of content ("nodes" in Drupal-speak) in lists – and Drupal, Khalid, our client and Social Signal being who we all are, the resulting module (with a little extra work by Khalid) was released to the community.

Between Khalid's work, some solid advice from Bryght on data architecture and Courtney Miller's theming and interface tweaks, the result was a platform that was designed from the ground up for participation.

So yes, there was some technical mojo, but all of it in the service of, and strictly applied to, getting people to take part in the community. We were setting a stage – which is just a venue for the actors to shine.

And shine they have. Kate Dugas, the site animator, has been brilliant, in turns charming, warm and provocative. The community members have responded in kind, to the point where I now regularly turn to myself for ideas and inspiration. Community, enabled by technology: that's what this is all about.


William Azaroff says

March 29, 2007 - 9:27pm
Thanks Rob. I gotta say, the fact that this custom module, which we paid to develop, was released to the Drupal community as an open source gift symbolized the whole endevour on a meta-level.

It was the very first sign of the good that would come out of

Kudos to Social Signal on a project executed to perfection!


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