One of the effects of the rise of the Internet are online communities. There are many of these virtual worlds and the kind of community they offer varies in proportion to the needs and goals of their users. While communities, like Facebook, provide a kind of public square populated with one’s friends, some online communities are focused on specific projects and goals. Such goal-driven communities can have significant impact—many produce software products that rival their commercial counterparts. For example, online communities focusing volunteer efforts have brought us products like Firefox and Ubuntu and many more.
The case of open source software communities is particularly interesting because their members create software that would normally be worth billions and they do it for no tangible compensation. This may seem odd, because, even though participation in a community such as Ubuntu provides psychic income, we live in a world in which no one accepts psychic payments—you can’t pay for groceries with a smile and a thank you. So why do these people give away their work?
With The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation Jono Bacon suggests that belonging is the key motivation for volunteers. Successful communities, he argues, offer their members an identity in a social economy, and through this identity members accumulate social capital and obtain the emotional satisfaction of respect and admiration of the membership through the quality of their contributions. Another motivation involves a sense of an opportunity to accomplish something meaningful, even world-changing.
How do you create a well-functioning community that provides belonging and other psychological benefits? Bacon offers a comprehensive look at the basic elements and challenges of creating online communities, hitting all the bases and giving prospective community leaders much to think about and learn.