Online communities are scattered around the web like stars, many of them humming along for 10-15 years now.
If you've been lucky enough to be part of a community with longevity, then you know what a rare and beautiful thing it is, full of strong relationships, obscure traditions, inside jokes, and metric tons of information stored. Some of these communities belong to corporations, some are hobbyists, and some can't even remember why they were started in the first place.
For anyone seeking to create an online community that stands the test of time, I'd advise checking out some of these long-standing communities, many of them forum-based. It's not accidental that they're still going...it's due to the smarts and devotion of the members, moderators, and admins who run them.
Here are some of the key observations I've made of the most enduring online communities:
Provide value to the members - Build a solid foundation with something valuable to your members. It might be answers to their questions, it might be moral support, or it might be a creative outlet.
Build in reminders - You need to have a mechanism for reminding members to participate, especially in the beginning stages. Make it customizable for members with different preferences, but alerts and notifications are very important.
Make it habit-forming with recurring events or traditions - Consider a Friday chat event, or a running topic with a word game, or a monthly pet photo contest. Create a relevant, recurring draw that builds history.
Involve the members in running the place - Yes, let the inmates run the asylum as much as you can. Having a strong sense of ownership, or a stake in the outcome, is the most direct path to longevity. Remember when the members of The WELL actually bought it back?
Create insider status - You don't want to intimidate new members away from joining, but you need to create an "insider status" for your key supporters. Give them special titles, send them t-shirts, intentionally record and share community history/memories over time. Consider in-person events to strengthen the bonds even more.
And finally, always remember the community is people, not technology.
Any grizzled veterans want to share their own insights on what has made their community last?
Energizer, Energizer Bunny design and other marks are trademarks of Energizer. I believe use of the image in this post falls under "fair use" for teaching purposes.