Saturday, November 1, 2008

What's in a name?

Another important process for enabling successful community development are the naming protocols used to describe each forum. Naming discussion boards and other shared spaces not only subtly directs the nature of the dialogue but also impacts the volume of traffic that will visit, the rate of return and the likelihood of group formation. In most instances a forum designated for a specific use will not attract members with dissimilar interests. However, as we learned over time, our ideas and the ideas of the members may not translate as the same thing. While the name itself determines what kind of people are attracted to the forum and whether or not you will keep them, the truth of the matter is that the members will poke and prod at the structure until they are comfortable with how it defines their space. Subsets will often adopt a variation of the forum name as the identifier for their group (a nickname based on the original forum name is success indicator that the forum has an appropriate name).

Returning to the elicitive model demonstrates that the user base should have a hand in determining the need for community spaces as well as relied upon to define the most appropriate metaphor. Whether its asking for suggestions or creating an organic name that can be manipulated successfully, its clear that members will ultimately exert their influence on the environment.

A name that is narrowly focused on a single product may not generate much staying power and will limit the number of potential users. In addition, building areas designed to attract participants for one time special events may create its own set of problems. Leaving the forum intact once the promotion is closed and without an established culture may lead to interference with overall cultural continuity and impact limited staff resources. The members who remain may use the forum for activities never anticipated by the company. If the board is closed after the event, these members may move en masse to other forums on the site, which in turn disrupts the prevailing culture. In short, building boards or areas geared solely towards fulfilling a departmental goal or implementing a new tool without regard for the community's own needs may have unpredictable outcomes.

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