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?
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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
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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:

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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
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When Companies Sponsor Their Employees to Contribute to Open Source Software

WordPress, the popular open source CMS, powers a reported 43%+ of the web, including this site. It is backed by a global community of contributors who volunteer their time in all sorts of ways, from code to documentation to training. But did you know that many of the project’s biggest contributors are sponsored by their employer to provide that time?

As we discussed with Brad Williams of WebDevStudios, the success of WordPress has created an economy around the software, growing and launching many businesses that serve the needs of its users, from personal blogs to major corporations. And one of the way those companies give back is through these sponsorships.

No company is more tied to WordPress than Automattic, the owners of WordPress.com, which was founded by the co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg. Hugh Lashbrooke is the head of community education at Automattic, which sponsors him for 40 hours a week, primarily to contribute to WordPress’ training team.

Hugh joins us on this episode to give us an inside look at these sponsorship arrangements and how they influence WordPress team dynamics. Plus:

  • What happens when a company stops sponsoring an employee to contribute to WordPress?
  • The flexibility you need to work with volunteers on such a massive project
  • “Public by default” as a standard of work
Continue reading “When Companies Sponsor Their Employees to Contribute to Open Source Software”

The Community Management Jobs You Turn Down

What are the reasons why you would voluntarily end the interview process for a community role? If you give it some thought, you’ll probably come up with some!

Ryan Arsenault and Patrick share real stories from their careers, giving the reasons why they decided against continuing to interview with certain companies, including some you’ve heard of.

This leads to a conversation on the community opportunists, and how Web3 and NFT projects often fit into this category. What does it mean for your career if a rug pull happens on your NFT project? What responsibility do community industry players have in hyping these projects? After they remove the .eth from their handle, who is left holding the bag?

Patrick and Ryan also discuss:

  • The simple question Patrick asks recruiters to understand if what they are building is a community
  • Using “community” as a manipulation tactic
  • Why Web3 hype feels different from Web2 hype
Continue reading “The Community Management Jobs You Turn Down”

Cohort-Based Online Communities: Exploitation or Real Connection?

If you threw a random group of people together, united primarily by a shared educational goal that they can accomplish with or without the group, and had two weeks to build a sense of community among them, what would you do?

That’s what Alex Witkowski spends time thinking about. He’s the community lead for Section4, which offers business courses they call sprints. These sprints are typically around two weeks long and then the experience is over – if you want it to be. If you don’t want it to be, you can continue to benefit from and collaborate with the students that took the same course.

Alex oversees a team of four community managers that guides this growing number or cohorts and hopes to bring then together through an upcoming alumni membership program. He also believes that cohort-based communities often exploit community rather than build it. We chat about that, plus:

  • Alex’s transition from English teacher to community pro and the condescension he felt when making the move
  • How he determines when a community manager simply has too many cohorts
  • Why Slack may not be the right tool for their alumni product
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While Making a Mixtape, Asher Roth Built an Online Community

Photo: Drew Dennis

In between his three albums, rapper Asher Roth has released several mixtapes, including 2011’s Pabst & Jazz and his The Greenhouse Effect series. The third entry in that series, The Greenhouse Effect Vol. 3, hit streaming services on September 3, 2021.

But there’s something about his latest mixtape that makes it unique from every album, EP, and mixtape he’s released so far: It was a collaboration with his online community of fans and supporters.

As Asher contemplated making music during the COVID-19 pandemic, he came up with an idea: What if The Greenhouse Effect Vol. 3 was “entirely produced by fan/friend/follower submissions?” He set up a Discord, and off they went. He’d post acapellas – audio clips of only his vocals – and community members would produce song submissions, which Asher would review live on Twitch. The project would adopt a narrative story, adding guest verses from the community, too.

With the mixtape out, Asher stops by to talk about the collaborative process behind the release, the tools he used, and the community building lessons he learned along the way. One of the great things about this story is that the creation of this mixtape has helped birth an active online community, which Asher hopes will foster further collaborations between members.

Asher and Patrick also discuss:

  • How guardrails help encourage sustained creativity
  • Why Discord?
  • Now that it has achieved its first big goal, what’s next for the community?
Continue reading “While Making a Mixtape, Asher Roth Built an Online Community”