Communities as Parties

1408057351_cd42bb3ab0 At the Customer Service is the New Marketing Summit a little under two weeks ago, Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress project and the company Automattic) used a great metaphor to explain how good communities function – he described them as a party.

I’m really surprised more people didn’t latch on to this metaphor when they wrote about the summit. It seemed to be very well received at the time and I still think it is a fantastic metaphor. It is almost certainly a metaphor I will use when I find myself having describe the function of communities to my clients.

Before you dismiss this as some buzzword loaded rubbish (which is what I sometimes do when I hear comparisons like that), listen to my interpretation and summary of Matt’s right on metaphor.

Parties that are successful bring the right number of people together. Those people end up having a good time and having fun. They will hopefully come for whatever their purpose is and achieve that sort of goal (having fun, learning, meeting people, etc.). When people achieve their particular goals and have fun, they leave feeling happy.

Good parties almost always have good hosts. It is their job to keep the size of the space appropriate for the number of guests, plan the party, get people involved, and keep things rolling. The host not only needs to be the organizer of many things, but sometimes the life of the party and cheerleader. Sometimes this is is necessary, but not always.

One or two bad guests can ruin a party and make it miserable for almost everyone. A space that is too large or too small for the number of guests can make for a bad party. A party with a terrible host will likely be bad. Sometimes parties are really great or really bad for no apparent reason.

Now replace every use of the word party with community, every use of the word guest with member, and host with community leader. Matt didn’t take his metaphor quite as far as I did above, but as I thought more about parties and as I thought more about communities, I couldn’t help but see the striking similarities.

Think about some of the points listed above and how they tie into communities:

  • If communities are too big or too small, they may lose their desired effect.
  • Great communities have members that have fun and achieve their appropriate goals and purposes.
  • Great communities seem to have great community leaders / facilitators behind them. There are ones that don’t, but a majority of the time, they do.
  • If you take part in a community with 50 forums or 150 community features for 10 members, it is the wrong sized space. 3 forums for 5 million members is the wrong sized space as well.
  • Community leaders have to keep communities engaged and entertained. They also have to deal with the administrative side of running a community – keeping the community clean, dealing with troublesome members, organizing things, etc. Again, this isn’t always necessary, but it is needed most of the time.
  • Bad members can sour a community very easily. Dealing with them is a big challenge, but they’re necessary.
  • A community with a bad community leader will have a hard time being successful.
  • Communities are sometimes ridiculously successful or unexplainably terrible for absolutely no reason.

If you don’t understand or appreciate this metaphor, then I’m not sure if you really get communities and what they’re all about. This is one of my favorite non-technical metaphors for sometime relatively technical like an online community. Big thanks to Matt Mullenweg for thinking of it! (Apparently, Lee Lefever also/originally came up with this idea.)

25 Responses to “Communities as Parties”

  1. Dustin Johnson said:

    Feb 14, 08 at 2:21 am

    Please give credit where credit is due. Lee used this metaphor almost a year ago: .

  2. Service Untitled said:

    Feb 15, 08 at 1:00 am

    Dustin,

    I wasn’t aware of that and quite frankly, only heard tidbits of the panel because I was working during the event. I’m sure if Matt got the idea from Lee, he credited Lee appropriately. Generally people like Matt, who work very heavily in open source and blogging, give credit where credit is due. I wasn’t aware of it and will edit the post.

  3. Matt said:

    Feb 15, 08 at 3:17 pm

    Not familiar with Lee’s work, but his write-up looks like a good exposition of the metaphor as well. The thought occurred to me on stage because Eddie Codel was filming, and I had gone to his New Year’s Eve party and noticed how his big space would feel very different as people came and went throughout the night.

  4. Photo Matt » Communities as Parties said:

    Feb 15, 08 at 3:39 pm

    […] Communities as Parties « Yahoo Interview Comment » […]

  5. The Wyld Blog » Blog Archive » Communities as Parties said:

    Feb 15, 08 at 7:11 pm

    […] You can read the full blog post here. […]

  6. Service Untitled said:

    Feb 15, 08 at 8:30 pm

    Matt,

    That makes sense for the background and helps me remember it. I see where you got it now and it makes sense.

  7. Be sure to bring your dance shoes because it is always 1999 at… « 4realz.net said:

    Feb 15, 08 at 8:53 pm

    […] February 15, 2008 by Dustin … the 4realz party. […]

  8. Matt Herzberger.com » Blog Archive » Here is your del.icio.us goodness for 02-16 said:

    Feb 16, 08 at 4:25 am

    […] 3 – Service Untitled » Communities as Parties – customer service and customer service experience blog […]

  9. Gray said:

    Feb 16, 08 at 2:24 pm

    i like that, an accurate comparison.

  10. Kipper said:

    Feb 16, 08 at 11:15 pm

    Wow, this is a great way of putting it! I share the running of a community dedicated to a band with another fan, and although I do throw up the odd good idea (and do all the technical side of things, which I love) the guy has a fantastic knack of throwing in the right ingredients to make people tick and talk more on the forums. I love that about him, and really wish I had the same skills myself when he’s awayon holiday. Is this something that can be learnt (to a degree?) I would love to find out more 🙂

  11. Service Untitled said:

    Feb 16, 08 at 11:52 pm

    Kipper,

    I’m glad you like the metaphor. Having someone like that is tough to find, but incredibly valuable. I think it can be learned to some extent, but it also seems to have a natural element.

  12. links for 2008-02-17 : Bob Plankers, The Lone Sysadmin said:

    Feb 17, 08 at 2:18 am

    […] Service Untitled » Communities as Parties – customer service and customer service experience blog “Now replace every use of the word party with community, every use of the word guest with member, and host with community leader.” […]

  13. Comunidades de Práctica y Fiestas | Ciberprensa said:

    Feb 17, 08 at 7:55 pm

    […] Leo en Service Untitled una cita a la metáfora que hace Matt Mullemweg, creador de WordPress, tomada de la asociación planteada por Lee Lefever, entre Comunidades y Fiestas, que sirve para explicar muchos de sus fenómenos. […]

  14. Alleba Blog » What It’s Like to Run a Big Community said:

    Feb 18, 08 at 12:16 pm

    […] Bookmark at:StumbleUpon | Digg | Del.icio.us | Dzone | Newsvine | Spurl | Simpy | Furl | Reddit | Yahoo! MyWeb Filed Under» […]

  15. கில்லி - Gilli » Blog Archive » Communities as Parties said:

    Feb 19, 08 at 11:10 am

    […] கட்சி இல்லீங்க… கேக் வெட்டி கொண்டாடுகிற பார்ட்டீக்கும் குழுமங்களுக்கும் பெரிய வித்தியாசம் இல்லை என்கிறார். […]

  16. Kipper said:

    Feb 19, 08 at 12:16 pm

    @Service Untitled: thank you for your reply! I’d definitely agree that some people do have that natural knack, but I guess those less gifted (like myself) will have to work hard at thinking up ideas to try and catch up.

  17. Service Untitled said:

    Feb 19, 08 at 10:27 pm

    Kipper,

    Exactly. I am one of those less gifted people. You can’t be good at everything, right? 🙂

  18. BloomBurst - The Official Vox Pop Design Blog » Blog Archive » Communities as Parties said:

    Feb 20, 08 at 1:30 am

    […] I recently saw a post recapping a talk by Matt Mullenweg, which linked to a fantastic older piece by Commoncraft. I sometimes find it very hard to articulate why its in a geek’s best interest to socialize. After all, the reason that many of us set out in careers dedicated to bits and bytes was to minimize prolonged exposure to human interaction. However, the afore mentioned pieces detail a simile apt for exploring why communities exist. The revelation? Communities are like parties. […]

  19. Bob Stewart said:

    Feb 21, 08 at 2:53 am

    Well this makes perfect sense. I was always good at hosting, participating, moving effortlessly through a party. We’ve got a decent party on our hands at ActiveRain and we see all of the manifestations of your analogy there. Now if I could just get the guys to let me have a cocktail at the office, we’d really be talking………..I’m petitioning for fridays to be cocktail day. I’ll be pointing to this post to support my efforts 🙂

  20. Service Untitled said:

    Feb 21, 08 at 10:46 pm

    Bob,

    Ha, this post isn’t saying to have cocktail parties at the office, but if it persuades someone to let you, more power to you I suppose!

  21. Tiago Dória Weblog » Blog Archive » Comunidades são como festas e softwares como música said:

    Feb 26, 08 at 12:02 am

    […] Recentemente, em uma palestra sobre o funcionamento das comunidades, ele as comparou a festas. Veja se não faz sentido? Segundo ele, é só trocar o termo festa por comunidade, convidado por membro e host por administrador da comunidade. […]

  22. Og så alligevel… » Online communities work like parties said:

    Feb 27, 08 at 10:31 am

    […] Recently, I’ve come across several blog posts using the metaphor of a good party to describe well-functioning online communities. Paraphrasing Matt Mullenweg, founder of the WordPress project, Service Untitled sums up the metaphor thus: Parties that are successful bring the right number of people together. Those people end up having a good time and having fun. They will hopefully come for whatever their purpose is and achieve that sort of goal (having fun, learning, meeting people, etc.). When people achieve their particular goals and have fun, they leave feeling happy. […]

  23. Tina Anderson said:

    Mar 27, 08 at 5:23 pm

    Great analogy. This idea applies to both online communities and actual communities. I think we should have cocktail parties at the office more often. That would help employee morale.

  24. Service Untitled » Book Review: Managing Online Forums - customer service and customer service experience blog said:

    Apr 09, 08 at 12:06 am

    […] More on Service Untitled: For some more information about communities, check out this post about looking at communities like parties. « Stop Sending Emails When They’re Unnecessary   […]

  25. Success said:

    May 07, 08 at 1:28 am

    I guess the main difference between parties and communities is alcohol. A party can be a good way to achieve certain objectives but if the booze is flowing the unpredictability of the event rises exponentially! Best to keep to communities.