Useful Books on Online Community Building

Back in January, Meredith Farkas had a great post talking about how she was planning to teach Web 2.0 with Web 2.0 tools. I love reading people’s reflecting and “thinking out loud” about their work. I learn a ton from these posts. So first, thanks, Meredith.

I appreciated that Meredith was going to facilitate learning by doing and talking with people doing community. She also  noticed the lack of useful books about books on online community building. Here is a snippet from her post and the response I left in her comments. Any other recommendations?

via Teaching Web 2.0 with Web 2.0 | Information Wants To Be Free.

I made a lot of changes to the topics covered in the class in light of how much Web 2.0 technologies have changed. I’d originally wanted to teach a class on online communities, but I couldn’t find enough good readings (or a textbook) for an entire course (now that Nancy White, et al.’s new book on Digital Habitats is out, it might be easier to do). I decided instead to focus more on online community-building in the course and am spending two weeks on it. I’m also having three guest speakers who run online communities: Frances Roehm of Skokie Net, Jessamyn West of MetaFilter, and my hubby, Adam Farkas, of ODwire. I know there are a lot of other topics I could have covered (cloud computing, mobile technologies, mashups, etc.), but I’m pretty happy with this semester’s lineup and I look forward to read my students reflections and discussions on these topics.

My Response:

Meredith, I’m looking forward to seeing your course unfold with a large group – I find the diversity of conversations in a larger group VERY stimulating, even if more work!

As to books about online communities. Your observation about the gap is astute and the gap is there for a reason. If you look at the cycles of attention around online community you have the first significant rise after the publication of Howard Rheingolds “Virtual Community: Homesteading…” (By the way, the full text is available free online, thanks to Howard)

Then we had a few more great offerings from Amy Jo Kim, Cliff Figallo and Jenny Preece. There is also an excellent edited book by Smith and Kollock “Communities in Cyberspace.” They and Preece, I think, opened the door to academic interest and study of online communities.

From this initial start there were some other books, mostly aimed at what we now know were naive expectations about early forms of online communities for business application. There was a lot of hoopla.

THEN came the dotcom crash. “Build it and they will come” was realized as a pipe dream. And the interest in online communities subsided. (And I’d say for more than economic reasons – the limitations of software, the adoption rates for going online, etc.)

With the emergence of what we now call “Web2.0″ and “social media” (which, by the way, have their roots back into the 60’s and the history is a VERY fascinating online community and network story unto itself and an example of the interplay between technology and community – we explore it a bit in the start of Digital Habitats), and the increase use of the internet, another wave of “online community” emerged. This one was more diverse.

There was the “online community” associated with buying things prompted by the longevity and success of Amazon (ratings) and eBay (reputation) and more sophisticated applications that allowed businesses to tap into the people side of retail.

There was the “online community” associated with social networks. Here is where I’d say this is not online community and that the differentiation – or more accurately, the continuum between individual, community and network — really started to emerge. I’ve been writing a lot about this continuum on my blog and in my slide decks (choconancy) if you are interested. I won’t bore you now.

This has, in my mind, not only extended the possibilities of how we interact together online for a purpose, but also diversified design and facilitation approaches – something I don’t think books are addressing. You find this juicy stuff these days in Twitter chats with the #KMers and #lrnchat and others. It is still a distributed discourse – which is both fascinating and time consuming.

If you want to see some of the other books I’ve find useful, you can find them here.