Waterwings: A Quick Start to Online Communities

Originally posted at my public sector design blog.

A month or so ago I spoke about creating hyperlocal community websites at the Cleveland Westside Leadership Training Collaborative. This is a three session course offered by a group of Cleveland CDCs to assist in training up-and-coming neighborhood activists/leaders. I was part of their guinea pig group the first year of the program.

I was asked to speak because in a previous life I spent four years running a hyperlocal community weblog for my Tremont neighborhood. I spent around a half hour or so giving an overview of the possibilities and answering quite a few questions about implementation. I was asked to put together a quick start guide with some links to the options I was talking about.

I’ve finally finished a first draft of the the guide, which I’ve called Waterwings: A Quick Start to Online Communities. This guide is deliberately targeted to folks who don’t have a strong technical background, and is meant more to help get them online doing anything at all than teach them how to be an award-winning A-list blogger.

It is deliberately simple and sparse. I don’t want to overwhelm these people with facts, figures and options. I’d rather help them get their feet wet online in the first place, and they can learn to do the butterfly or backstroke later.

I recognize, however, that my guide is still quite rough around the edges, and that I might be missing some good sources for these folks to utilize. I’ve deliberately left out social media sources like Twitter and Facebook, because I feel they might be initially too intimidating for users to adequately direct and form an online community. So please, if you disagree with anything in the guide, think I’ve left out something important, or have a question, comment, or point to make about it, let me know.

The guide is available on this page, or as a PDF.

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Andrea Schneider

Your guide is a thoughtful way to encourage people to think about how to extend their “on the ground” community with a broader audience and become more inclusive. I am very interested in this topic and what you are doing.

Nice job.

Adam Harvey

Thanks Andrea. I don’t think there’s a lot of incentive for most tech-savvy folks to help bridge the digital divide with hands-on assistance. A lot of people I run into are very interested in taking their meatspace goals into cyberspace, but are too intimidated by teh internets to attempt it.

A few years ago when I was in Nashville for a NeighborWorks America conference I experienced the same sort of reaction that I had at the WLC a month ago. I actually ended up corresponding with a group in Battle Creek, Michigan a few times and helping them on the road to starting their own site. I lost track of them though, so I never did find out if they were successful. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for improving the guide.