Moving on…

21 December 2009

We’ve been using this blog as a learning platform about online tools and communities. While we’ve been writing and reflecting here, we’ve also tried to build an online community platform for the ISEAL Alliance.

Here’s the good news: This platform is now live at

There will be no more posts on this blog. But do join us at

Holding a consultation on an online community

2 November 2009

Before the launch of the Online Community, ISEAL used a number of standalone tools for online consultations.

These included a wiki, a blog and the website, used to advertise the consultation.

However, there are a number of issues with using standalone tools:

1. They can only be customised to a limited degree. The Online Community was built from scratch for ISEAL, with a technical specification sent to our developers Rechord.

2.  Users often end up only visiting one of the tools. Even though we clearly linked all of the tools from each website we used, some people only visited the blog or the wiki.

3. It took time to customise the tools to the way we wanted them.

4. It cost money to purchase upgrades enabling us to obtain the required functionality

5. Instead of having to explain one tool to our members, we had to explain several tools.

Using the Online Community:

The new Online Community makes things much simpler.

We are able to create a group for each online consultation, ensuring that all the information is contained in one area.

This group allows us to upload posts,resources, documents in progress and events.

Members are then able to view these items and leave comments.

Tips for holding a consultation on an Online Community:

1. The consultation should be as accessible as possible. Try and have links to important documents on the front page of the group as well as in the resources section. Some people may only have time to glance at the front page.

People should not have to login to read documents, although they will need to login to comment on documents and edit documents in progress.

2.  Those that you want to take part in the consultation need to be aware of the existance of the Online Community. They also need to know how it is accessed (for example, the login procedure) and how they can take part in it.

Therefore, it is important that the help section of the Online Community is clearly visible on the front page, and if possible linked on the front page of the group as well. We actually decided to make our help section a group so people could ask questions.

3.  It is important to have regular updates, just as with a blog. Posting on the comments recieved so for makes those who have left comments feel valued and those that have not yet left comments are spurred to do so.

Learning about Drupal for the Online Community

17 August 2009

Using Drupal, published by O’Reilly Media, has arrived today from Amazon, and I have started reading up on how to use this open source content management system.

It is always useful to understand how the technology behind your online community works.

As well as enabling you to fix minor technical problems, it will also give you an understanding of what can be done with your community.

What does the platform you plan to use or are using support?

Having also read O’Reilly Media’s HTML and XHTML Pocket Reference and CSS Pocket Reference, I stronly recommend their textbooks.

ISEAL’s Online Community concept presented at ISEAL AGM

13 July 2009

At the end of June, ISEAL held its Annual General Meeting, where our members were able to participate in a variety of exciting workshops and provide input into ISEAL’s activities.

During the Open Plenary session, ISEAL’s Technical Director Patrick Mallet presented ISEAL’s forthcoming Online Community to those present, including delegates from such member organisations as Rugmark, the Forest Stewardship Council and the Alliance for Water Stewardship.

ISEAL’s Online Community is intended to provide a hub for member-member communication, and will be a place where ISEAL staff can provide training, capacity building and where members can easily access a volume of resources in various formats, including video and audio.

On Wednesday, myself and Communications Manager Wiebke Herding and Alison Kriscenski of the Forest Stewardship Council presented two workshops on Building Online Communities to our members.

These workshops, which ran for three hours total, also discussed how to run online consultations and use online tools for good.

This week, ISEAL staff will be testing the Online Community, which is currently at the beta stage.

Avoid link spamming in your online community

15 April 2009

While most internet users will mainly suffer from email spam, one of the most common forms of spam on online communities is link spamming.

This takes the form of a number of weblinks in a single forum post or blog comment.

It is important that these are removed as soon as possible. Clicking on the links may open adult or unpleasent content, and in some cases malware or adware may be present.

There is also the possibility that some of the products being advertised may be scams.

Some members may try to enter into a dialogue with the spammer, which will usually not be replied to and will distract from the topic at hand.

Although most link spam posts will consist of a series of links and no text, some posts may be sneaky and have some text, but be written for the sole purpose of promoting a site.

Many link spammers also use specially written programs or scrape content off blogs to make their spam appear more interesting (this has happened on my personal blog recently).

Spamming is a massive industry, but there are signs that some countries are cracking down on this practice.

The US Can-Spam Act of 2004, which the excellent mailing program Mailchimp adheres to, was used last year to award Facebook US$873 million against the owner of Atlantis Blue Capital, which sent 4 million spam messages to Facebook users.

However, online community managers still need to be vigilant. Regular moderation of the community will enable link spam posts to be removed rapidly.

Once the Online Community has been completed, tested and ready for launch, I will be in charge of making sure that spam is removed rapidly and that users have an excellent experience.

At the moment, we are at the rapid prototype stage, meaning that an incompete version of the Online Community has been created for testing.

Five online community tools (and what to use them for)

2 April 2009
Oneblackbird via flickr

Tools of the Trade

There are endless possibilities for online learning and interaction. Here’s a list of five tools, and what you can use them for: Read the rest of this entry »

Feeling at home in an online community

27 March 2009

Is your online community welcoming to members?

The clue’s in the name. If members don’t enjoy interactions they won’t come back.

This week I’ve been examining how online communities such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Ning create a sense of community for their members.

Keeping members happy:

Those in charge of the community need to make their members feel valued. When a change occurs, it is important to obtain feedback from members.

An example of this is the blog promotion and blogger networking site Entrecard’s close consultation with its members over advertising changes to the site.

Entrecard has a clear area where members and those in charge of the site can communicate (the Entrecard blog), and this has proved to be very fruitful.

The site’s owner, Graham Langdon, has made some significant changes to the new advertising rules as many community members were concerned about the initial terms and conditions.

You don’t have to refuse to implement a change because users are unhappy,

Running an online community is a balancing act.

While some changes are vital to its smooth running, it is also important that members are listened to, so they feel happy.

Unhappy members may leave the Online Community, which defeats its purpose.

Members will also feel valued when their contributions are highlighed. Angela Connor has started interviewing community members for special profiles. While this may be time-consuming, another possibility is to have a post rating system, where useful comments can be highlighted.

Richard Millington of FeverBee highlights the importance of members feeling appreciated by the community in a post on nonprofit online communities.

What do you enjoy about the online communities you visit? How are you made to feel part of the community?