BlackPlanet’s Founder on Building Impactful Platforms and Communities

“Let the people see what I have seen.”

This is what Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till, said when she insisted on an open casket funeral for her brutally murdered son in 1955. Photos of Emmett’s disfigured body circulated and encouraged many to join the civil rights movement.

Darnella Frazier is the teenager that caught George Floyd’s murder on camera and posted it to Facebook. She later stated “that could’ve been one of your loved ones, and you would want to see the truth as well.” As the video circulated, it inspired protests across the country, and George Floyd’s name, image, and story, became a rallying cry against police brutality and systemic racism.

Our guest this week, Prof. Omar Wasow, breaks down the thread between the power of these images even further: “What some of these videos do, what some of these images do, is they allow people who are outside to have a window in, to have a moment of empathy, to walk a few steps in the feet of somebody who might have suffered in some profound way.”

These images clearly have the power to create understanding and power movements. These victims of brutal and heartless crimes become our symbols for change, though we must not forget that they were people, that they were just trying to exist. For example, the protests that erupted after George Floyd’s murder have been twisted into a completely unrelated conspiracy theory by QAnon.

Wasow, the founder of BlackPlanet and a professor whose research focuses on race, politics, and statistical methods, discusses how the internet gives a platform to those who might otherwise not have one, like Darnella Frazier, but also serves as fertile ground for dangerous groups like QAnon. 

Patrick and Omar also discuss:

  • The principles that made BlackPlanet a popular community for Black people of all generations and backgrounds
  • How BlackPlanet and other early social platforms inspired creativity amongst their users
  • The power and importance of documenting and sharing injustice
Continue reading “BlackPlanet’s Founder on Building Impactful Platforms and Communities”

Is Your Open Source Project Healthy?

When you contribute to open source projects, Dawn Foster makes it abundantly clear that even if “you’re there on behalf of [a] company, you need to do the right things for the community.” In this episode of Community Signal, Dawn outlines the principles that she follows and shepherds as the director of open source community strategy at VMware’s Open Source Program Office.

These principles foster projects and communities that are collaborative and encouraging, but of course, it does not always pan out that way. Dawn discusses how documentation and education, having a clear commitment from the company managing the open source project, and balancing for collaboration instead of number of contributions can all help to build healthy open source communities.

Unlike social platforms that optimize for getting everyone to contribute an infinite amount, open source projects rely on spreading knowledge and contributions amongst the group. “In some cases we have open source projects [where] almost all of the contributions are made by a single individual. What happens if that individual wins the lottery and leaves VMware, and doesn’t want to work on this project anymore?” That’s a great question for all of us that manage communities. If our top contributors left tomorrow, who would pull the community forward?

Patrick and Dawn also discuss:

  • Evaluating open source community health
  • The tools and documentation that help with governance
  • Evaluating the risk of contributing to an open source project
Continue reading “Is Your Open Source Project Healthy?”

The Toll of Ageism and Abuse on Community Professionals

On Community Signal, we’ve spoken to several professionals that have left the industry for other pastures. While their reasons are never exactly the same, there’s certainly a trend amongst professionals in the industry, particularly women, who bore the brunt of online abuse.

As Patrick says in this episode, “if you haven’t received abuse then you’re probably not doing everything you can for your community, that’s just a sad reality. I wish that it wasn’t the case. I wish that you could somehow maintain order without making yourself a target.” In a profession where our responsibilities include moderating conversations, deleting posts, and banning people, yes, it’s to be expected that we will make some people unhappy.

But as Patrick and Kellie Parker discuss, it should also be expected that our colleagues and managers understand the realities, toll, and potential dangers of this work and plan for how to support one another through it. The mental and emotional toll of working in community management is real and something that we should all be aware of, no matter what rung of the ladder we’re on.

Kellie shares exactly how the mental and emotional aspects of working in community played out for her, where there must be organizational support, and the responsibility of speaking up for our own health and wellbeing. She now speaks openly and candidly about the sexism that she faced, but back then, she admits that her initial reaction was to “be professional” and power through. For professionals that don’t have institutional support, another coworker to cover for them, or the flexibility to miss a paycheck or take a personal day, the notion of self-care in the face of abuse may not be as easy as it seems. We hope that Kellie’s experience encourages anyone listening to think about how they can better support those that they work with, from an individual perspective and an organizational perspective.

Patrick and Kellie also discuss:

  • The sexism faced by women in gaming and community management
  • How workplaces can support community managers
  • The “magic community wand” and how to work against it
Continue reading “The Toll of Ageism and Abuse on Community Professionals”

Level Up Your Community with Amy Jo Kim’s Principles of Game Thinking

Amy Jo Kim‘s work building social systems and online experiences for The Sims, Rock Band, Ultima Online, and the New York Times, to name a few, makes her an industry go-to when businesses and clients have questions about creating engaging experiences for gamers, shoppers, and more.

Amy Jo is the author of Community Building on the Web (2000) and Game Thinking (2018). While some think of her as a community professional because of her writing and others know her more for her work in games, Amy Jo sees her work as continuous and intertwined.

She was tackling questions around user incentives and gamification decades ago and even then she thought, “is it too late for me to write a book?” Let’s all take that as a lesson that it’s never too late to share what we’ve learned and then, as she says: “Keep going, keep getting better, keep developing new frameworks that give people value.”

Patrick and Amy Jo also discuss:

  • Amy Jo’s experience getting a community book published in 2000
  • Why simply just implementing “PBL” (points, badges, and leaderboards) likely won’t take your community very far
  • Focusing on the “middle” of your community experience
  • How inclusivity and diversity factor into game thinking
Continue reading “Level Up Your Community with Amy Jo Kim’s Principles of Game Thinking”

Building Inclusive Communities, Workplaces, and an Inclusive Profession

If you’re reading this, we’re guessing that you are in the community management profession. Hi, how are you holding up? Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and too many other Black people, ongoing protests for an end to systemic racism and inequality, and a looming presidential election that has a lot riding on it, life has been more challenging than usual, to say the least. And as community managers, we’re at the center of many of these conversations.

Whether we’re creating spaces for people to safely discuss these challenging topics, working to build and foster diverse communities and teams, or helping companies make the leap to a fully digital workplace, our skills and work are in high demand.

In this episode of Community Signal, Patrick speaks to three community professionals about how current events have impacted their lives and how they think about building inclusive communities. In the day-to-day, that might mean guiding conversations within our communities. In the broader sense, it’s thinking about how we build communities, tools, and platforms that have diversity, equity, inclusion, and the knowledge from our collective decades of experience in community management baked in from day one.

As our guest Bassey Etim puts it, “we stand on the shoulders of the people before us, and we’re Called, and I mean ‘called’ with a capital C, Called to try to make this a more fair and just world.” 

Listen to Patrick, Bassey, Marjorie Anderson, and Nina Collins as they discuss the following and more:

  • Supporting hard conversations in spaces where they need to happen
  • Building platforms that encourage diversity and stamp out racism
  • Identifying broader candidate groups when hiring
  • Designing systems that allow for proper flagging of abuse
Continue reading “Building Inclusive Communities, Workplaces, and an Inclusive Profession”

The Most Accessible Deserted Island Conference Ever

How many virtual conferences and events have you attended recently? Now compare that to the amount of time you’ve spent playing video games during the past few months. Not giving too much away, Patrick and I would probably agree that we’ve spent more time on the latter. With screen time dominating our lives and in-person gatherings largely on hold, how can we rise to the challenge of bringing communities together in accessible, refreshing, and fun ways? 

In this episode of Community Signal, principal developer advocate Austin Parker shares how he used tools like Twitch, OBS, Discord, and yes, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, to throw a deserted island conference like no other. Austin doesn’t expect every conference from here on out to be hosted in the video game, but he does hope that the pandemic and his experience with Deserted Island DevOps encourages all of us to think outside of the box when it comes to creating experiences for our communities. In his words: “You don’t have to be an expert, you don’t have to be a master event planner. You don’t need $10,000 to go rent a ballroom at the Sheraton. You can make something that’s engaging, and creative, that people like, and people will come and listen to it. You can share knowledge and you can build a community using stuff that is either free or fairly inexpensive.”

Austin and Patrick also talk about:

  • Pros and cons of in-person and virtual events
  • The moderation tools, volunteers, and code of conduct that helped make Deserted Island DevOps happen nearly seamlessly
  • How Austin grinded to get enough bells to pull off the conference
Continue reading “The Most Accessible Deserted Island Conference Ever”

Community Management Before Section 230, When You Had to Print Out Every Post

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has been a frequent topic of conversation on Community Signal. Its existence as we know it seems untenable given Trump’s recent executive order and Joe Biden’s criticisms of it. On this episode, community and social media professional David Flores shares some of the history of how Section 230 came to be.

David worked at Prodigy just as they were coming under fire for a post that someone left on one of their message boards. While the initial court ruling went against Prodigy and found that online service providers could be held liable for the speech of their users, this decision served as the genesis for Section 230, and the ruling was overturned by the new law.

He also shares how he entered the field of community management and describes navigating moderation at Prodigy in the ’80s and ’90s. For context, all deleted posts were printed so as to maintain a record. He also discusses conversations with early community platforms and how Prodigy attempted to look after its employees’ emotional wellbeing during times of turmoil at work.

Here’s more of what Patrick and David discuss:

  • What was it like moderating before Section 230?
  • Editorial standards as a framework for community moderation practices
  • The popularity of Prodigy’s message boards
Continue reading “Community Management Before Section 230, When You Had to Print Out Every Post”

Facebook Promoted Divisive Content to Boost User Engagement

For years, Facebook executives have persistently shut down efforts to make the site less divisive, according to reporting from Deepa Seetharaman and Jeff Horwitz of The Wall Street Journal.

As community professionals, we’re tasked with helping people start and participate in conversations that matter to them. We’re often held accountable by “engagement” metrics –– such as the number of people participating in conversations and the sentiment surrounding those conversations.

But in this conversation with reporter Jeff Horwitz, you’ll learn that while Facebook obviously wants to gain more attention from users and increase time spent on the platform, there’s less internal consensus around the ethical dilemma of reaching these engagement goals by amplifying divisive groups and content. Alternatively, a lack of concrete metrics to measure impact is perhaps one of the things stopping Facebook from taking a step back and thinking about how their platform is impacting the world.

Is Facebook already too much of a monolith to change its path? Or is Mark Zuckerberg still not convinced that the company is at the center of a moral dilemma when it comes to polarizing its members and advancing the spread of misinformation?

In this episode of Community Signal, Patrick talks to Jeff about the article and dives into the context surrounding the story learned while talking to Facebook employees. They discuss:

  • The engineers that are continuously pushing to build a more fair and just Facebook
  • How decision-making works at Facebook
  • Why “social good” has fallen out of favor
Continue reading “Facebook Promoted Divisive Content to Boost User Engagement”

Trump’s Executive Order is a Danger to Online Communities

Black Lives Matter.

As community professionals and hosts, we have the power to cultivate thoughtful spaces online. We serve communities and, if you’re a regular listener of this show, I doubt you’re serving racists.

Systemic problems can feel overwhelming, but small things make a difference. Your community and how you manage it, regardless of the size of it, can be a part of the solution. I encourage you to think about that as you make choices that shape these platforms.

On May 28, a couple of days after Twitter added a fact-checking notice to one of his tweets, Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting online communities and platforms.

I believe that holding Trump accountable for his rhetoric and fighting white supremacy are the same fight. This executive order is designed to stop you, me, and big platforms from doing exactly that. On this episode, we’re talking with attorney Anette Beebe about the resulting fallout and answering some of your questions.

Among our topics:

  • What damage has Trump’s executive order done already?
  • How does this impact community moderation right now?
  • The publisher vs. platform “debate”
  • Does adding notices to content make you liable?
Continue reading “Trump’s Executive Order is a Danger to Online Communities”

How HER Puts Its LGBTQ+ Community’s Safety First

People have gotten crafty when it comes to staying connected during this time of social distancing. Zoom calls with family and friends, Animal Crossing weddings, and drive-through birthday parties are just a few of the ways we’re showing up for the people we care about. HER, a dating and social app for LGBTQ+ womxn and queer people, is also doing its part to foster safe socializing for its community. That said, you might say this comes as first nature to HER, because safety has always been a must when it comes to representing and providing a space for their members.

In this episode of Community Signal, HER’s head of community, Shana Sumers, discusses the recent changes that have been made to help community members stay connected during the pandemic. She also shares some of the tools and policies that keep members of HER safe from scams and persecution because of their sexual identity or gender orientation.

Patrick and Shana also discuss:

  • How community moderators make a difference on HER
  • Reasons why members find value in HER even after finding a partner through the community
  • Delivering a premium and safe experience on HER without forcing everyone to pay a premium
  • Why the 40+ community is Shana’s favorite on the app
Continue reading “How HER Puts Its LGBTQ+ Community’s Safety First”