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Izzy Neis

I had no idea this industry existed until I was in it... funny how the best things in life pop up when you're not looking.

In regards to brand, CM's are the borderline-- the bridge between the audience/user-ship and the company. They represent both sides as best a mediator could-- while still presenting the "analogy of the adult supervisor at the edge of the playground: letting the kids (users, community members) have fun, but being there to step in if guidance or policing is needed."

CM's need to balance between being on everyone's side, and no one's side, being everyone's friend, and no one's friend-- being partially impartial with the best intentions of the community & brand at hand, and always sticking to the policy already set up, unless radical change is needed thanks to organic learning & growth on the site.

And yet, CM's are project managers and people managers - who need to ensure that the job gets done, and done well.

:) Gotta love community.

Celia Pearce

Excellent post Ron. I agree that community management is under-valued and under-studied. I think this is really where a lot of MMOGs and MMOWs fall on their faces. Ever notice that WoW support is closed after 5pm PST, which is exactly when most people (in the U.S. anyway) are playing? Mutual respect between players and world-owners to me is a really significant issue. It also begs the question, put forth by T.L. Taylor and others, "What happens when corporations become governments?" Azzeroth has a larger population than Denmark, after all. Yet many of these companies continue to operate as if they are shipping a product, not providing a service, let alone growing a culture.

The processes you're describing here are what I might characterize as "guided emergence." Your focus has really been how to do that in real time as the culture is unfolding. Mine has been more on how to integrate that into the actual design of games. My Ph.D. work looked the affordances of specific design features of game and how they promote or hinder desirable or undesirable emergence. This is really important because one thing you can't do with emergent cultures is hit "undo." Once the culture has moved down a particular path (see sex cultures in Second Life) there's really no way to "rewind" it and start over. So companies can find themselves with both a cultural and economic disaster on their hands very quickly. Emergence in online communities moves much faster than corporate oligarchies so to me this is the next big challenge in our field.

ron meiners

Hi Izzy. Nice to meet you... thanks for the comment and your blog looks really interesting... well, more on that in a bit! But look forward to more contact.

And thanks Celia... I do appreciate the value of interaction design, and there have been some excellent examples of successful (and less-so) work in SWG, WoW, and especially Eve Online. As well as some that could have used more design, one of which we know quite well, alas. It would be great to see an in-depth study of a virtual space like There or Sims Online, where there clearly was some attempt made to create social catlysts, but where the emergent dynamics were far from what was expected or even desired. And I must politely disagree with regards to Second Life: both that cultures can reverse course (especially with strong guidance) and especially in that the main determinant there was that there was little or no real time guidance, and that what was done wasn't effective (I know the community team, for a time, worked to "reform" the forums, and eventually apparently gave up). I think there it shows the importance of understanding the culture you're working with, so that there's a rapport. Without that, you'll basically be ignored (appropriately, as an outsider). I think part of the core experience of SL is an explicit broad freedom... which seems to often be impetus for disruptive behavior. Reasonably... but it is a culture, and can be, I'd argue, influenced. Even successfully so, if the direction of the influence is one that the community can clearly appreciate. And the culture can certainly move in opposite directions, depending on the influences.

I'd generally seen "emergence" as a term for the behaviour outside of design parameters, ie., people gathering in Stormwind is design, the "naked gnome protests" to express the community's displeasure at the nerfing of the warrior class (I think it was...) is emergent.

Although too, it occurs to me that if community management is done right it's often almost invisible. It's usually much easier to lead a conversation a certain direction if you don't tell people that that's what you're doing. Which sort of gets into the ethics of community management, or any social leadership really, where one is sometimes exerting an influence on a group without explicitly stating that. But yet that's another post...


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