[Editor’s note: Noah Kagan is one of those young guys who always seems to know what is going in Silicon Valley. He’s given a lot of thought about community building. He recently left Facebook, is working on various projects, and writes a blog at Okdork.com.]
There are two white families on my block in Cupertino, CA out of a sea of Asian families. It is almost uncommon for me to be around white people and whenever I leave the Bay Area it always fun to remark that my high school (Lynbrook High, go Vikings) was nearly 70% Asian and that my college (UC Berkeley, go Bears) is around 50%. White people are foreign to me! How did this happen?
It is about community. A question I have thought about since my days before Facebook. Why does it matter? Who cares about it? Why do we sometimes want diversity, but somtimes want be among our own? How did this one group of people get so large in that area? Why do they congregrate together in the China towns of SF, LA, NYC and other major metropolitan areas?
Think about if someone were to randomly drop you in a foreign country, Los Angeles (just kidding), or a place like Vietnam. You’re at the airport, it is hot and gorgeous. Most of us, without being consciously aware of it, find a taxi and ask to go somewhere where “our kind” is. We’ll tend to go to where the other white, Asian or whatever race you are congregate. We go to where people speak our language, look like us and eat food we are comfortable with. Increasingly, in diverse societies such as our own, where we mix freely, the division is still there — only along socio-economic lines. This idea of Community still matters. It is nice to be around people we think of as part of our foundation.
So what does this have to do with the web? It has to do with building a community How do you make it authentic, and how do you make it prosper? There are no perfect solutions, but there are great ways to start.
- Be involved with it already. Don’t go creating the LaCrosse social network if you don’t even know how to play.
- Understand the community. At Facebook vs. MySpace, the younger users care much more about coloring background images to define themselves, while college students prefer to do it with photos and text.
- Listen to them. You already know this. When you are involved in the process you care more about the outcome. Just make sure you do it with your members.
Community building will determine the success or failure for many online businesses. Realize, there is no way you can replicate what MySpace did for your business and there is no cookie cutter formula for making a community. Just consider that the best way to get started is to a) get together a small group of people around a relevant subject, b) allow it to control and direct where that community should go and c) provide the group with tools to help make the community grow.
For example, anyone can have a blog on Xanga, but Daily Strength provides a lot of community tools so that people can anonymously help each other with different problems (breast cancer, ms, etc…). This will be the future destination where people go for support. Figure out your position, start it extremely small (light the kindling) and get the big logs ready for roasting.
I want you to finish reading this post and think about two things: 1) Are you involving or considering your community members when you move forward with your business and 2) Are you making an effort to strengthen, empower and/or possibly create your community?