This Discussion forum is a google group and the topic is accounting. It is a public forum.
Identifying features of an Online Community
These are the features I was looking for in this online forum to see if it had developed into an Online Community:
Communication between all participants – this was not evident because there were so many posts about different aspects of the topic it was really hard to follow – no threads. The posts were listed chronologically which meant you had to sort through the complete list to find all posts relating to a specific aspect of accounting.
All members of the community are equal and share information and responsibilities – many posts had no comments, even those asking for help. There appeared to be very little interaction between group members. One person would post & leave it at that –no follow-up.
Community members give each other advice and help each other to solve problems – there was no evidence that this was happening in this group.
Willingness to give back and improve the community experience – this seemed to be a location to post any thoughts people had about accounting; most posts were unrelated & not commented on.
Willingness to explore new methods and technologies – people did explore new technologies but did not use links to show other people how to find these technologies.
Structure – there was no structure to the group.
Facilitation Services to help the group
The group needs some structure to bring the members closer together. A Facilitator could set up a series of synchronous sessions dealing with individual aspects of accounting: available free software, how to calculate your taxes, frequently asked questions, etc & ask the members who were knowledgeable in the specific topic if they would facilitate the session related to that topic. This would facilitate interaction within the group & as a result group members would get to know each other.
A group blog may also be used to encourage group members to help each other and learn from each other. This could be set up as an accounting blog overall but have separate blogs for the major aspects of accounting so if members wanted to know about software they could go to the software blog within the accounting blog. A facilitator could encourage follow up posts by making helpful comments to blog posts.
To help online forums generally I think the members need to encourage each other & provide constructive criticism. A facilitator could initiate this process. To function effectively an online group needs structure & I believe this structure is built up from the interaction of its members. As members get to know each other better they talk about different methods of doing things & come to a decision as to which method best suits the group.