What Makes a Community 'Sticky'?
If there was one single, obvious answer to making websites sticky, everyone would be producing addictive websites that people couldn't get enough of. The fact that they aren't indicates that there's no one secret to making a community website 'sticky', ie one to which members keep on returning time and time again, and where they spend huge amounts of time.
DNA produces sticky sites via a combination of technology (see How the DNA Engine Encourages a Strong Sense of Community), attitude (see Transparency and DNA) and good editorial propositions (see Writing Editorial Propositions for DNA Sites). Although it's hard to be too specific about exactly what makes DNA sites sticky - indeed, it's a different reason for every community member - some of the more popular reasons include the following:
Clearly Defined Purpose - Not only must the purpose of the community be clearly defined from the outset, it also has to be one that people buy into and can believe in. It doesn't matter how clear you make the site's purpose if nobody wants to join in!
Development of Society - Whatever the point of the site, it's vital to realise that well-balanced online communities develop like real-life societies. This means that areas of the community will develop that have absolutely nothing to do with the core purpose of the site, and this is extremely healthy. All communication is good, as it bonds the community together, and any restrictions on the subjects that people cover are a bad idea. Certainly there's no need for the Editors to be specifically involved in areas outside of the site's remit, but these activities should still be actively encouraged, because they lead to the healthy state of clustering.
Self-organisation - As the society develops through communication, it will naturally organise itself via clustering. This is a very healthy stage, as it demonstrates that the community has matured to the point where it doesn't pretend to be all things to all men, and doesn't need to. Clubs and societies will crop up independently; people may decide to publish their own regular newspapers, as with The Post on h2g2; and in the healthiest communities, pressure groups will start up to push for development and debate on the core aspects of community, such as the editorial policies and the site rules. Some clusters may appear to be more destructive than others, but by this stage the community is big enough and mature enough to start developing its own set of ethics and standards.
Development of Conventions and Ethics - As the community grows, the members will start to define their own conventions and ethics, independently of any rules the Editors impose. This is also extremely healthy, and leads to an organic development of the site's policies and rules (the Transgressions Procedure is a good example of a community-developed convention that has made it into DNA's official rules). The more debate that is encouraged along these lines, the healthier the community, and the more likely that people will stay.
Self-policing - As the community takes on more and more of the mantle of responsibility for developing itself, it will hopefully move towards self-policing. This is where individuals take on the responsibility to uphold the self-developed conventions and ethics by asking people not to swear on site, not to be nasty to others, and so on. Truly self-policing communities place a lot of trust in the community itself, by asking them to be responsible for making sure the site doesn't contain illegal content (such as defamatory or copyright material), and DNA contains a complaints system that has been specifically designed with a self-policing community in mind. h2g2 and the Hub have recently been allowed to switch to a self-policing system of moderation; other BBCi Communities may follow in time.
A Sense of History - As the community matures, the community places its own markers to create its own sense of history. On h2g2, important events are given names1 and although this might seem trivial, it's a very healthy sign. The community is creating its own unique sense of history, and indeed there's an ongoing project on h2g2 to write a history of the site from the perspective of the community itself. It's a reaffirmation that this isn't just a website, it's a genuine and real community.
It's in this sense that DNA creates genuine communities that makes the experience so sticky; people talk about 'living on h2g2', and they refer to account closures as 'murder'. It's real life, not virtual reality.
1 When the site closed for six weeks on joining the BBC, this was named 'Rupert' by the community after the tenth planet in Douglas Adams' book Mostly Harmless. Similarly, one of the server down-times was named 'Geena Davis', for no particular reason.
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