Friday, September 17

A lesson in defining topic-based communities

There is a post on the stack overflow blog on how they are managing communities, Merging Season. At the heart of discussion: What is the right size of domain for a topic-based community? They are against one giant community, as they say:
Yahoo! Answers. Monumentally popular, enormous traffic, and containing absolutely no useful information, Yahoo! Answers is actually more of a teenage chat room than a place to get real answers.
They also highlight failed attempts to bring the Ubuntu and Unix community sites together to make a single community. The process of defining a "topical community" reminds me of the problems we have in IR when we define a "topic based vertical" to apply domain knowledge in retrieval. From their blog:
Communities consist of concentric circles. You share more with people in the inner circle than you do with people in the outer circles, but if you were in a strange place, you’d seek out people even from the larger circles. If you’re building a community (or a Stack Exchange site), it’s not immediately obvious which level is going to work...
They are developing rules that use the size and degree of overlap between communities to guide the process. It will be interesting how this plays out and what lessons we can use to apply to IR.


  1. I don't know about other users, but I don't use these sites as communities. I look up questions on web search engines, then if a hit pops up on StackOverflow, I tend to go there because I trust them and I stay away from because I don't trust them. Sometimes I run into a query that I can answer and I do (the same way I fix glaring and easy to fix errors on Wikipedia), but I don't spend time on StackOverflow figuring out what I can answer or posting questions.

  2. I think that the users of these sites tend to fall into different engagement categories. Based on what I've hear about other community sites, the user breakdown probably looks something like:

    90% - just browse (lurkers)
    9% - post a question or answer (casual)
    1% - answer many Qs (heavily engaged)

    Bob, it sounds like you fall into the casual group. The real "heart" of the community is the 1% of core users who watch the site and are heavily engaged. This group makes sure questions get answered.

    You need to pick a community big enough where you have the critical mass of "core" users, but focused enough where you don't alienate them by making them look at irrelevant stuff.

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