Goodbye, Omidyar.netOnline communities with causes at their core show promise for persisting

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Usually, when an online community shuts down, it's an admission of failure: not enough time or staff to keep the trolls at bay; people drifting away after an initial surge of interest gives way to a lack of a compelling reason to participate; a divisive internal conflict or catastrophic technical collapse. (And sometimes the community's hosts - or their financial backers - just plain lose interest.)

But that doesn't appear to be the case with the impending closure of Omidyar.net, the social-change-oriented community established by the Omidyar Foundation Network in 2004. Initially, it was a bold experiment in crowdsourcing (long before that became a buzzword), with community members deciding where to direct some of the foundation's funds. As time went on, it became a venue for collaboration and discussion.

Now the foundation is closing down the community infrastructure. But they're doing it in a unique way designed to do much more than just turn out the lights.

Instead of the usual practice of shutting down the servers with little or no notice and posting an "It's been fun, now get out" message, Omidyar.net created a forum to discuss the transition process to a new home or homes. They held elections that wrapped up earlier today, selecting a board to guide the process.

According to the community's executive producer, Thomas Kriese,

We strongly believe in the power of community-based efforts, and we feel the best way Omidyar Network can continue facilitating the kind of work that's being done both within and through omidyar.net is to empower communities online that are more narrowly focused on specific interests and moderated in a style of their own preference.

One of the things we've learned over the last three years is that self-managed communities can work. Given the tools and the space in which to use them, the community can and will manage itself and keep things running with little to no oversight. We've also learned that communities are all about the people, not the platform, and that's informed our decision for moving forward.

Just how much attachment members have to their home and the passion they feel for their community are clear from the comment thread following Thomas' announcement. That, along with the mindfulness and attention apparent in the way Omidyar.net's administrators are proceeding, give the community a solid chance of surviving its upcoming transition.

Updated: The site was founded by the Omidyar Network, not the Foundation. Thanks, Thomas, for the correction!

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