My Notes (and a few pics) from the Online Community Summit

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Jim Cashel’s second Online Community Summit in Sonoma, California. This entry is a summary and my notes from the event, to the best of my recollection. If anyone has any corrections, please let me know… Pictures at the bottom.

Overall, I think the summit gave the participants (including me) a good feeling about the future of online communities. I heard references to last year’s summit, where the economy and tech bust had taken their toll on the attendees. This time however, positive attitudes were shared by many.

Much of the buzz was from the initial success of new social networking communities like Friendster, Tribe, LinkedIn, etc. While this type of community wasn’t the focus of the summit, they provided great fodder for discussion. It was apparent that these communities signify a resurgence in the power of the two-way web.

In asking, “Why now? Why are these networks so popular all the sudden?�? Many concluded that the technology is nothing new- it is the widely-held perception of meeting people online that has changed. It is now acceptable for the average person to meet and work with people online. This change in perception bodes well for the future of online communities of all sorts.

A few presentation highlights…

Marc Smith, Sociologist from Microsoft, gave one of the best presentations of the event. Marc is a brilliant guy who has done some of the most statistically relevant and interesting studies of online community participation I’ve seen. Using Netscan, which logs all Usenet activity, he has created impressive graphs and charts that provide visual representations of group participation, member habits and thread creation and life (among others). He knows his stuff- Marc is a person I’ll keep my eye-on. Go to the CNet interview with Marc here.

Myles Weissleder, VP of Communications and was another of my favorites. MeetUp is trying to use the Internet to get people off the Internet and into face-to-face meetings and events- which I think is a great idea. Myles mentioned the book Bowling Alone, by Robert Putnam as an inspiration for MeetUp. I could certainly see why- it’s a very informative and unnerving book that describes the decay of civil participation in the US over the last 40 years or so. I’d love to see MeetUp continue to be successful in getting people out and together.

Alexis Johnson, Community Product Manager of Epinions (now, discussed some great lessons learned, particularly regarding how the company works with and manages their reviewers and the reputation system. The overall lesson I took form Alexis is to never underestimate the sense ownership that members of a community feel as a product of their participation. Check out Jim's interview with Alexis here.

I was excited to meet and see a presentation from Amy Jo Kim, VP of Social Architecture at Amy wrote one of the seminal online community building how-to books “Community Building on the Web�? - which first taught me the basics when I was getting started as an online community manager. is a unique site. It’s not a game- it’s a virtual world that allows members (as avatars) to socialize, build relationships and participate in events and games like no other site before it. Amy talked about data mining and sophisticated technology they use to understand how people really use There. They can create and manage the environment based on huge number of metrics that help There seem even more real to the members. Check out an Online Community Report interview with Amy from 2001 here.

It was also really interesting to hear from Steve Demello, COO of Steve presented from the perspective of running a business that provides message boards or “Web-based social spaces�? for the public. I was particularly interested in how they are dealing with competition from open-source products, premium subscriptions and the value of contextual advertising.

Aside from the presentations I got a chance to talk with some folks that I hope to keep up with in the future.

Owen Davis is working on a project called “Identity Commons�? that I think could be something powerful in the future. Identity Commons is about each person on the Internet owning and managing their own online identity. So, your reputation from eBay, your purchase history from Amazon, your personal information, picture, etc. would all be managed by the individual instead of disparate organizations. Your identity would then inter-operate with the organizations that needs your information. The project has a way to go, but I like the concept.

I’ve been a customer of Web Crossing for a couple of years now and it was great to meet and talk to Tim Lundeen, Founder and CEO of Web Crossing. I got a chance to bounce some ideas off of him regarding the Common Craft Workspace. Check out Jim's interview with Tim here.

I’m glad I got a chance to talk to a couple of the folks who run great examples of customer support communities. Dan Gazzaniga from the HP Support Forums and Ram Nagaraj from the Cisco Networking Professionals Connection (NetPro) were at the summit. I think both of their forums provide great examples of the kind of online support that can work similarly for smaller and less technical companies. It was great to have a chance to talk to these individuals and I look forward to keeping in touch.

Sylvia Lacock Marino is an experienced online community consultant from which I could certainly learn a thing or two. She’s been doing it for years and has worked with an impressive list of clients. It’s encouraging to see someone so successful at the profession I’ve recently pursued. Although I had to miss most of her presentation, she’s focusing some of her work on text-mining discussions. This is taking the free form of online discussions and categorizing, summarizing and creating key points that are based on the discussions. From my experience, this is truly a needed element in understanding online communities. Sylvia also illustrated the power and speed of community-based feedback and the value it provides to businesses.

The Forum One folks were great organizers and put on an impressive event with awesome food (the event was held at a cooking school). Jim did a great job keeping us on-task and he gave away some nice bottles of wine for answering local trivia questions. There was wifi, but it was spotty at best and didn’t bother the flow of the event. Jim metioned that there were many more laptops this year than last.

Very personally, the event also gave me some validation in my new career. I was able to talk to people about my strategy, focus and experience. It was great to hear so many experienced folks say that it is a promising niche and that I’m on the right track. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Here are some pictures...

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Jim handed out some nice bottles of wine- he's on the right. This is Paul Resnik from the University of Michigan handing the bottle to the winner.

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Michael Olivier of won a bottle with the answer of "58". I can't remember the exact question- but "58" was the year 1958. Directly preceding Michael's answer was the hint from Jim "It's under 59 and above 55", a al The Price is Right.

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Left to right: Kailash Ambwani, David Woodrow, Joe Cothrel, and Mark Graham.

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There were about 60 folks at the summit. This is during the breakfast before the second day got started.

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Here's me practicing something more dangerous than talking on a cell phone while driving- taking pictures while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge.