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Trends from the Online Community Summit

Below are some general observations about the state of online communities, according to the summit participants I've talked to and seen present:

Online Communities work. When I first came to this conference in 2003, it was on the heels of the dot-com bust and people were questioning the future of online communities. In 2004, the attitude was much more hopeful, social networking and blogs were adding a lot of interesting facets to the online community world. Here in 2005, the acceptance, value and success of online communities is a foregone conclusion. The question is not about “if�?, but how. It is great to see, for someone in my line of work.

Blogs are everywhere. I have not seen a demo or talked to a single person that has not already included, or about to include blogs in their online community strategy. Like the March of Dimes, it’s all about giving people a resource that they can control.

A focus is serving kids. More than ever before, people are interested in and concerned about serving the younger populations. There is a particular emphasis in how to serve the under 13 kids who are protected under COPPA. From what I heard yesterday, it's hard to have a community of kids without legal liability.

Message boards are old news.
Unlike the last couple of years, the discussion is finally moving past message boards as the tool du jour. It’s now all about things like geo-tagging, massively multiplayer online gaming, stealth learning, virtual worlds, blogs, wikis, mobile etc. This is a very welcome new focus.

Community is a business strategy.
It appears that people are a bit less concerned with ROI and more seeing community as a necessary part of doing business. It’s not even so much about monetizing, but community as a way of doing business. It is becoming more of a strategy and less of product, which is also good to hear.

[Updated] I almost forgot- a big point here. Power to the people. There are a lot of interesting things happening that involve community leaders giving more power to the members to manage the site. This isn't explicit power, but an aggregation of member actions that happen every day that are re-purposed to moderate discussions, define the best content, root out spam and flamers, etc. The costly and time consuming management of big communties is finding value in trusting the members to decide how the site is managed, based on tiny "votes" by members.

OK, back to paying better attention…