Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Community website governance structure?

What is a good basic governance structure for a community website? I'm asking because these kinds of "online communities" are cropping up all over the place, and I'm seeing a pattern I've seen before - when nonprofits encounter volunteers or donated computer hardware.

The basic (unexamined) assumption is a) free is better, and b) if we get it (community site, volunteer, hardware), it'll run itself. Left unexamined is the management time involved in making sure these resources run smoothly, and that some roles should b kept in-house, and some should be delegated.

Below is a brief brain-dump of the roles involved in running a online community site. Often, many roles are the responsibility of one person,but it's important to recognize the different roles which could eventually be divvied up among individuals. I know there's probably a good 5-6 formal models out there for tech support that I should follow - but I've got 20 minutes now, might as well just jot this down.

For the first read through, just ignore the little symbols.

Tech support layer:
*One time / setup high-tech needs (installation, configuration, theming, design, new functionality)
*Ongoing back-end support (problems with code - SQL, PHP, Java)
Ongoing general support (upgrades, patches, functionality support, domain registration)
@Ongoing back-end maintenance (adding email addresses, running backups, checking logs, escalating if necessary)

Management / Ownership layer:
@Fiscal responsibility (person who pays the bills: domain; website hosting; etc)
@Major decision makers (i..e the people who would decide on the site name, who approve payments, delegate all other roles)

Community layer:
@Ongoing maintenance (fixing broken links, watching for spam posts, welcoming new users)
*Super users -
-Forum / discussion board owners (people who lead and manage topics)
-Content owners (people who are allowed to manage certain types or areas of content)
-Moderators (people who approve posts, topics, discussions, etc)
*Regular users

Now I went through and identified certain roles:
@ means this role should exist within the organization (i.e. not be a volunteer or outside consultant). Why? Because these are - IMHO - roles that require liability - i.e. a way of requiring action (as opposed to the "best effort" of a volunteer). And even if volunteers are used, these roles should be considered the high-priority ones, so the most reliable - and proactive - volunteers should be selected.

* means this can - and probably should - be outsourced. Either the expertise required is niche enough not to be an asset to the day-to-day activities of the organization, or these roles are the best to delegate to folks who can do them on a "best effort" basis.

If there's no mark, I don't have a strong opinion either way.

[Retroactively filed under: OCC2006]


Blogger Tom Britt said...

Great article and good thoughts on the roles for a local community portal. My position is that each community portal needs a moderator to keep the site in check, otherwise, your site will be overrun with spammers and bots. I'm building a new online portal for my local site, www.atGeist.com, which will operate much like Craigs List. I'm going to ASP the application when it is finished, taking the roles of "IT support" and "developer" off of the local portal manager.

A term we use to describe the moderator is "mayor"...it just sounds better.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Greg Beuthin said...

I agree with the need for a moderator - I have to reformat the article so you can see I consider a moderator a type of super-user. For large sites like TechSoup.org, where there are many forums, you'd want more than one moderator (I think) - and those folks could be non-staff "super-users."

I'm sure more of these thoughts will be explored at the online community camp:

3:06 PM  

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