When Open Source Community Software is Bought by Private Equity

When private equity buys online community platforms, who wins? What about if those platforms were built on open source software? Does the company continue to be a good citizen of the open source community that helped build the product?

History has shown us that it is often the community managers and pros who lose. They might not just lose a good platform though, they might lose their job.

Lincoln Russell has an interesting perspective on this topic. He joined Vanilla Forums, an open source community software platform, as a senior developer in 2011, having already used it for a couple of years. He left the company in 2020, then the director of engineering. Lincoln has continued to use the software. Vanilla Forums was subsequently purchased by Higher Logic, a company lacking a meaningful history of open source contributions.

As a matter of disclosure, both Higher Logic and Vanilla Forums are past sponsors of the show.

Lincoln and I also discuss:

  • How Vanilla Forums’ open source ethos shifted over time
  • The importance of data migration standards for community software
  • Is community software best built by small businesses?
Continue reading “When Open Source Community Software is Bought by Private Equity”

When an Online Community Pro Retires

Rebecca Newton is a legend of the online community profession. After 30 years, she has retired. But what does it mean when we retire from this work?

Her career began AOL in 1994, building communities and managing a massive volunteer program. Among her numerous stops, Rebecca found a focus in child safety, leading such efforts for Sulake (the company behind Habbo Hotels and Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom), Mind Candy (Moshi Monsters), and most recently SuperAwesome, a provider of tools for safer, responsible digital engagement with young people, who was acquired by Epic Games.

A program manager for community in 1997, a community director in 2001, a chief community officer in 2007: Rebecca has held all of the titles. Along the way, she has paved a path for the community profession, pushing us higher in corporate environments and creating valuable resources for us. Most notably, her 24 year stewardship of the e-mint listserv for community pros, an iconic resource that has helped countless community facilitators.

After such a career, what’s it like to step away from full-time work? What goes through the mind of a retiring community pro? That’s what we’ll discuss, plus:

  • How do you prepare for retirement, as a community pro?
  • What will Rebecca miss? What won’t she miss?
  • The least and most effective pieces of legislation passed during Rebecca’s career
Continue reading “When an Online Community Pro Retires”

Breaking: Online Community Consultant Discovers Brand New Concept (Again!)

Online community consultants aren’t unlike consultants for any other area of work. Some are ethical, smart, and talented, and some aren’t. Consultants also don’t often make great guests for the show because they view it as yet another lead generational funnel for them to shout generalities into.

But hopefully an exception is this episode with community consultant Jenny Weigle. On it, we discuss how being humble is often at odds with how many consultants promote themselves, as they place a certain importance on appearing authoritative and revelatory, even if that isn’t actually correct in the context of the history of this work.

Can you even be a community consultant or an online community resource if you haven’t taken a concept pioneered 30 years ago and thrown your logo on it?

We also discuss:

Continue reading “Breaking: Online Community Consultant Discovers Brand New Concept (Again!)”

Kinks vs. Crimes and Gender-Inclusive Content Moderation at Grindr

Bodies aren’t moderated equally on the internet. Content moderation efforts, especially those at large, mainstream platforms, can suffer from policy-based bias that results in moderation centering a cisgender gaze. This reinforcing of heteronormativity can leave some of your most vulnerable community members – and potential community members – feeling alienated, ostracized, and simply unwelcome.

Last year, in her role as CX escalations supervisor at Grindr, Vanity Brown co-authored a whitepaper, Best Practices for Gender-Inclusive Content Moderation. Insightful, with a straight forward approach to making content moderation just a bit better, I found that it was also a validation of good, thoughtful moderation that has been going on for a long time.

Vanity joins the show to talk about these efforts, which are tempered by a realistic acknowledgement of the limitations of this work, and how our need to be in other places (like app stores) can often slow down the progress we’d like to make.

We also discuss:

  • Why it’s not our job to guess the gender of our members
  • The state of AI trust and safety tools
  • ChatGPT, Midjourney, and how much to worry about them
Continue reading “Kinks vs. Crimes and Gender-Inclusive Content Moderation at Grindr”

Safeguarding a Diabetes Charity Community and Knowing if You’ve Done the Right Thing

Safeguarding is a term used in Ireland and the United Kingdom that covers efforts to protect the health, wellbeing, and human rights of people, especially children and those who are otherwise vulnerable.

At Diabetes UK, four people alternate by week as the safeguarding lead, helping to protect those that the charity comes in contact with. One of them is Josh Poncil, the online community and learning manager. Among his responsibilities is Diabetes UK’s online forum.

On this episode, we talk about safeguarding and knowing if you’ve done the right thing at the end of the day, plus:

  • What is considered “too technical” for the average member to answer in a diabetes community?
  • How Josh writes for a vulnerable audience
  • Moderation decisions that could trigger a meltdown
Continue reading “Safeguarding a Diabetes Charity Community and Knowing if You’ve Done the Right Thing”

Empowering Employee Resource Group Leaders With Your Internal Community Platform

Lori Harrison-Smith

Employee resource groups (ERGs) can do a lot to create a greater sense of belonging at your organization. But the folks who volunteer to lead these groups may find themselves in need of help when it comes to utilizing perhaps the greatest tool at their disposal: Your internal employee community platform.

As a community strategist within large organizations, Lori Harrison-Smith has trained employees to help them get the most out of these platforms.

She has also managed two large migrations, both from Jive, and that has led her to have a (in her words) cynical perspective on the resources made available for these migrations, by both companies and the software vendors themselves.

Lori and Patrick discuss:

  • Doing something for an employee vs. showing them how to do it themselves
  • How much the ERG leaders she’s worked with have dipped into moderation
  • The short timeframes given to internal community migrations
Continue reading “Empowering Employee Resource Group Leaders With Your Internal Community Platform”

The Chief Community Officer Hype Machine

Jared SmithPatrick O'Keefe

As we celebrate Community Signal’s 7th birthday, Patrick takes questions from Community Signal listeners and supporters in this first ever “Ask Patrick Anything” episode of the show.

Questions include:

  • If everything had worked with CNN+, what would community look like for the platform?
  • Would you rather be a working community professional or a community consultant?
  • Will we ever see community leaders in the C-suite as the norm?

2023 will be Patrick’s 25th year of community work, so this is an opportunity to reflect on that passage of time. A lot has changed and, surprisingly, some things haven’t.

Joining Patrick to ask the questions and dig deeper is previous guest Jared Smith. They also cover:

  • The early promise of CNN+’s Interview Club
  • How community moderation tools have changed over the years
  • Why community isn’t special when it comes to the C-suite
Continue reading “The Chief Community Officer Hype Machine”

Elon Musk’s Quest to Make Twitter Worse

Ralph SpencerOmar Wasow Sarah Roberts

Elon Musk’s presence has loomed over Twitter since he announced plans to purchase the platform. And for these few weeks that he’s been in charge, many concerns have proven to be justified. Musk laid off 3,700 employees, and then 4,400 contractors. He is firing those who are critical of him. The verification process, perhaps one of Twitter’s most trusted features, has been unraveled. He’s offered severance to those who don’t want to be part of “extremely hardcore” Twitter. Following the results of a Twitter poll, he reinstated the account of Donald Trump, who was suspended from the platform for his role in inciting the January 6th attacks.

So, what happens now? What of the many social movements that manifested on Twitter? While some movements and followings may see new manifestations on other platforms, not everything will be completely recreated. For example, as writer Jason Parham explains, “whatever the destination, Black Twitter will be increasingly difficult to recreate.”

In this episode of Community Signal, Patrick speaks to three experts: Sarah T. Roberts, associate professor in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA, trust and safety consultant Ralph Spencer, and Omar Wasow, assistant professor in UC Berkeley’s Department of Political Science and co-founder of BlackPlanet, about the current state and future of Twitter. They dissect the realities facing the platform today including content moderation, loss of institutional knowledge, and uncertainty about Twitter’s infrastructure, but also emphasize the importance of Twitter as a social utility for news and more.

This episode also touches on:

  • The reality of moderating a platform like Twitter
  • What platforms actually mean when they say they’re for “free speech”
  • How Musk tanked the value of verification on Twitter
Continue reading “Elon Musk’s Quest to Make Twitter Worse”

When Community is on 3 Teams in 5 Years

As Zendesk’s customer base and product offerings have grown, so has its community. The Zendesk community started in 2008, under the support organization, as a space for people to ask and answer questions about using the product. Since then, it has shifted departments multiple times, leading to changes in KPIs and core purpose.

Nicole Saunders, the company’s director of community, joins the show to explain how she has navigated these challenges. Tune in for her approach on thoughtfully managing change and expectations within your community and inside of your organization.

Patrick and Nicole also discuss:

  • Why the comments are open on Zendesk’s knowledge base articles
  • You can’t tell people to contact support in Zendesk’s community
  • Handing some conversations in the community off to other teams
Continue reading “When Community is on 3 Teams in 5 Years”

Why Community on the Product Team Works, From a Product Leader’s Perspective

Recently, community pro Danielle Maveal joined Community Signal to discuss her experiences reporting into the product organization at Burb. In this episode, we’re getting the opposite perspective from product leader Gitesh Gohel.

Gitesh and Patrick worked together at CNN, where community reported into product. And while the product and community that they were building were short lived, they both speak highly of their time working together. Gitesh describes creating a team atmosphere where each individual’s expertise was respected and given room to ladder into organizational goals, giving each person the opportunity to see the impact of their work. Patrick shares how this fostered trust in processes and created great experiences for the community and the brand.

If you’re debating a community role that reports into product, this conversation will give you insight into how that can be productive when the team has a strong foundation.

Patrick and Gitesh also discuss:

  • Gitesh’s first experience managing community pros as a product leader
  • Why community pros should be excited about reporting into product
  • The successes and promise of CNN+’s Interview Club
Continue reading “Why Community on the Product Team Works, From a Product Leader’s Perspective”