Joel Spolsky has another must-read article on online communities and discussion forums, making the point that “small software implementation details result in big differences in the way the community develops, behaves, and feels.” He takes his own site as an example of how to things right.
A design goal was to eliminate impediments to posting. That’s why there’s no registration and there are literally no features, so there’s nothing to learn…To achieve that goal, nothing was more important than making the software super simple so that anyone could be comfortable using it. Everything about how the forum works is incredibly obvious. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been able to figure out how to use it immediately.
Jon Udell has more on the future of online communities and how blogs can play a key part:
If there’s a community “around” me, it’s only in the same sense that there is (or can be) a community around everybody…We all want to be, and need to be, engaged with multiple and overlapping communities. And when the costs of joining, participating, and leaving are lower, we can be. Of course there are, and will continue to be, vibrant and successful newsgroups and discussion forums. But I’m convinced that destination sites and centralized message stores are not the future of online community. Blogs are. They solve a bunch of problems. They also create a few new ones, but these feel like really good problems to tackle…Ad-hoc assembly and loose coupling will increasingly characterize both social and technical architectures.