Last week we were presenting at the MRS Youth conference in Sadlers Wells London talking about online communities; how to get the best out of them and why they delivered better results than traditional research, particularly in a youth context. We expressed a lot of passion in terms of why we did what we did. I particularly placed a lot of store in the point that true success in this kind of community comes from really encouraging participants to talk to one another in a natural, informal way and not just responding to the 'moderator' in a formal, mannered way.
This reminded me of days when we used to do lots of lots of focus groups and we would always try and have a chat with respondents 'after' the group was formally finished. It was amazing how quickly peoples voice, vocabulary and responses changed - i.e became more natural - once the group was officially over. This just shows how setting up formal environments can create formal responses and this is something we have tried to work against in the communities we run.
However, as a good challenge to that we were approached at the end by a couple of people from the BBC who had their own experiences of running a community online - designed to generate and create feedback on and ideas for BBC3 programs I believe.
They came up and said that their principle in the past had been to keep people separate in order to avoid group effects and people just agreeing with one another and coalescing around one point of view. Well, we chewed the fat a bit about different ways of doing things, and it reminded us that one of the great things about the way we approach communities is that it does allow you to almost simultaneously do a lot of individual and communal work - a great benefit that should not be overlooked.
At least the exchange proved that someone in the audience was listening which was great!