i’ve been absolutely loving the evolving debate around what elevates online communities to near utopian levels, or what drags them deep into the muck according to @parislemon… it all begins with the tone you set with your site — from the UI to the content. oh yeah, and then there’s honesty.

shoes by the door

one of my favorite all-time slides (yes, i keep that list) was entitled ‘leave your shoes by the door’ - by j.r. johnson, wherein he discussed how content (especially user-generated) follows the lead of those before them.  just as most of us (save for larry david) remove our shoes when entering someone’s house and others before us have already left their shoes by the door, so too will users of an online community remove their shoes — or at least put on different ones, depending on the site.

from this starting point, leaders of communities emerge — judged not only by the frequency of their comments, but also the quality.  so whether it is THE ‘robert scoble’ commenting on an article or @FAKEGRIMLOCK illuminating a blog, the rest of us strive to reach their level.  this is not to say moderation isn’t necessary for the larry david’s of the world, or that gamification won’t help herd cats, but communities cannot exist without these real-life or bigger-than-life personas.

DISQUS recently took this argument a giant step further by publishing the research it did on comments posted by over 60 million people across nearly 500 million comments… it’s all illustrated in one killer infographic with a follow-up by daniel ha, co-founder and CEO… and then fred wilson kicked off another flurry of debate with his post yesterday…  yet as much as i’m nodding / scratching my head to how pseudonyms and personas facilitate what i believe about communities (after all, my mom calls me a different name, than my girlfriend, than my boss), i kept thinking back to honesty.

james altucher wrote a great blog post listing the seven things that happen to you when you’re completely honest… on the one hand, a pseudonym doesn’t seem honest.  but on the other, pseudonyms may help remove barriers and stereotypes and actually facilitate honest discussions.  in the end, people lie. as do pseudonyms. but these are the minority of both our real and digital worlds. moreover, we quickly learn whom to filter, flag, and delete, and whom we want to follow and engage with in deeper circles.

the one thing the web has created is a well-documented history of our behavior — from our recommendations on the stocktwits’ stream to our blog comments across the web to our embarrassing pictures on flickr.  so whether via our real names according to our birth certificates, recently created fake names on facebook, or full-fledged pseudonyms — all it takes is a few clicks to tell if you’re funny, evil, intelligent, sarcastic, and/or add value. 

Authorjonathan hegranes