I recently attended the Integrated Media Association conference in Atlanta and sat in on a panel of web content providers addressing public radio folks about online content. Jesse Thorne moderated a great discussion about how to provide content your audience wants to hear, how to listen and how to foster online communities around your content. Online community building is of particular interest to our project as it is a key feature Radio Engage will provide.

The Sound of Young America

Merlin Mann made the following observation about how to handle community and conversations:

Creating community is not as simple as turning on comments … That is not a community; that’s a public toilet.

公廁 The public toilet is not the place where you want to hang out, converse, and connect with your neighbors. It is quite the opposite, you are in and out and don’t stop to open your eyes or nose to the environment. This is exactly how I feel every time I venture into the forums of our local paper (why did I come in here and how fast can I get out?).

Merlin continues his observation to support his claim:

If you just give people an opportunity to dive bomb in and say one thing and go away it’s not a conversation, it’s scrawl. When you turn on comments, when you encourage community, when encourage any of that, you also take on a responsibility to manage a certain expectation. Anytime you turn on a community aspect it not only needs moderation of some kind, but you are obligated to listen, respond and then show how that input had an impact on what you do.

His analogy to a public toilet got me thinking about what the contrasting metaphor could be for cultivating a more engaging platform. In meeting with KUSP, Terry Green suggested that what we are seeking is well aligned with a community garden. The Local Government Commission defines community gardens as “places where neighbors can gather to cultivate plants, vegetables and fruits. Such gardens can improve nutrition, physical activity, community engagement, safety, and economic vitality for a neighborhood and its residents.”

Community Garden

As we near the launch of our conversation platform for public radio stations we are working to establish best practices for creating an environment that cultivates a forum for civil discourse. Not every community has the same configuration but these are key areas that seem to distinguish the troll-laden public toilets from the more captivating community gardens.

  1. No anonymous users. Reveal the names and faces of the community – user accounts are required for everyone who wants to contribute comments and discussion threads. Even if an avatar and user name is used in place of real names, there are reputation systems in place to expose the behavior of the users.
  2. Create the culture. Model desired behavior. Don’t turn on comments if you aren’t going to participate. If you allow comments, expect to participate. Don’t turn on comments and never come back.
  3. Allow the community to self-moderate. Provide the ability to flag abusive comments and reward good comments.
  4. Reputation system. Highlight comments by showing them on user profiles and throughout the site.

We are looking for more ideas and inspiration as we seek to create the community garden effect for Radio Engage. We invite comments, thoughts and places of inspiration as we craft our solution.