When Communities get too Big

Thread Title:
I want my internet back damm it
Thread Description:

Webmasterworld members are discussing some of the problems facing one of the webs largest webmaster communities - the thread is homepaged aswell, which came as a surprise...

Much of the discussion centers around these issues:

  • Google discussions are a "whinefest" and not useful
  • Many of the more knowledgeable members have left, or are not sharing anymore
  • Constant repetition of newbie questions

Some time back we had a great discussion on the dreaded bell shaped curve that faces many communities and i must say, im most impressed that webmasterworld are discussing the growth problem there as front page news

Is there any way to handle such problems?

So, can anyone suggest:

  • What the solutions may be for a forum community that is in this kind of undesirable position
  • Ways to premptively handle the problem for new communities?

Good reading for sure...


No longer useful?

Nah, it just becomes less useful with time, surely? First you're overwhelmed, then you begin to glean and apply, becoming middling competent with time, give back with some basic-newbie helping, tire of that, read as much but maybe contribute less, then read less, then just hang around for sentimental reasons.

By which time you've gone elsewhere for your meat - or at least to swim with your peers - and those places can only survive with 2 fingers to democracy and a way of paying the bills. Micromanage (needs staff/income stream), slash and burn, ignore shrinking violets, and don't-add-no-bloody-forum.

As for WMW being in an 'undesirable position', well, guess desirability is in the eyes of the owner, no?

Eye of the owner

Well, that's a damn good point - it does depend, as a site owner what your vision is and what you want to get out of your site.

For some of the members it's most certainly undesirable judging by the posts in that thread but then im 100% certain that many newbie webmasters are in absolute awe of the amount of info in there and are lovin it...


Forget which site it is but there is one that give you credit marks for your reputation. The prob on wmw is that there is just your number of posts that defines who you are. They could all be complaints and you become a senior member. Defining your repuation is another matter for debate.

At least it gives you something to work for if you are a newebie by posting quality rather than "me too"

working for rep

is where it all goes wrong I think. If people start trying to get points they start posting for the sake of it.

as a forum gets older you pretty much have two choices don't you? Build a member base and then make it an almost closed community while you all grow older/wiser together OR aim to always encourage the newbies and expect the members who've answered the questions before and get bored to move on eventually.

Option 2 is the default I suspect. But if your business plan as an owner is to show ads and make money from them then it's a good option. In nature bell shaped curves repeat as communities get restocked :)

SeoChat has chosen...

...the "rep" path only days ago. And in an unexpectedly open manner too (without prior warning - I might add)

It seems that the sheer size of SeoChat (and the high precentage of simple, down-to-earth posts) is putting some established members off. Then again, that forum attracts quite a lot of fast-growing newbies, so it seems to renew itself reasonably well.

The issue has been raised there occasionally, and again recently, by members noticing they have to look elsewhere to find their lost forum buddies, or to read posts that stretch the brain a bit further...

Marketing Platform

WmW is simply being used as a marketing platform for "the world of search conferences"

For the next 10 seconds, I'll

For the next 10 seconds, I'll answer any questions you have about WmW.

(HHH! Credit for the "next x minutes/seconds" line goes to NFFC.)

Tales to tell

Oh RC! There are just so many tells to tell....

It's a good point that Gurtie makes about revolving communities and the owners end game plan...

>so many I'll leave that u

>so many

I'll leave that up to your collective imaginations now, the alloted time has expired.

Gurtie is right, of course. There's no money to be made on 'old pros.'

There's no money to be made on 'old pros.'

tch, tch

I would have thought that someone with your talents could have made money from "old pros" as easily as you could make it from anyone else!

"Anyone else" is easier, corn

"Anyone else" is easier, cornwall.

how to make money on old pro's?

I think I have the right business plan;

1. open pub near airport
2. provide free wireless
3. accept cards behind bar
4. Serve beer quickly

I just can't afford the pub.


"Gone are the days when a 100% frame could put your kid through college." --jk3210

I'm not sure that's true, but it was a good quote.

Good Moderators, Communication

Forum owners need to communicate clearly what is expected of them and then stand by that. If expectations from your mods change, forum owners need to communicate how things have changed so that all understand.

A forum owner needs to be humble enough to say "I was wrong" and to respect the moderators that may be volunteering their time to help you.

Say 'Thank You' to your moderators or those who help you out. It is a small phrase that goes a long way.

Understand that you can't pee in your mods shoes and expect them to stick around.

It's not just communicating w/Mods...

...you have to be clear and consistent in how you deal with your members. Inconsistent or unclear standards in moderation (for instance: editing one thing for personal reasons while letting similar things slide by, or playing favorites and letting certain members get away with more -- or less -- than others) will erode member loyalty and run off the intelligent, sensible posters who help keep forum quality high.


Why would this subject be of any interest to TW members?
They all know what "what's his name" is all about.
Xmods should just move on......


Nick brought it up... blame him. hehehe


well here was I thinking we were discussing the larger issues which effect all online communities.

I really must learn to look for that hidden agenda....

As you were gurtie...

No hidden agenda's here mate - this is about the larger issues - wmw just happens to highlight it in that thread...

uh oh...

Understand that you can't pee in your mods shoes and expect them to stick around.

Oh great, now where did I put Qwerty's shoes?

Why would this subject be of

Why would this subject be of any interest to TW members?
They all know what "what's his name" is all about.

Yup, we sure do (even though I'm not a regular TW member although read it a lot and registered just a minute ago ;) ). Back in 2004, I worked so hard for that mod position of a forum which I think I was pretty good at. I posted quite a few educational posts, all relying on the promise of "what's his name". But when the time came, (as promised by "what's his name"), I got no reply.

Then, I realised WMW was no more WMW. "What's his name" IMHO ran it just so he could promote that PubCon which is no more that PubCon but a money-making hub of "what's his name". And also, something came to my mind which never ever had before at the time when WMW.com used to be my daily visit. I could actually make money out of what I wrote. Even if it's a buck or two, it's better than making money for someone else.

Anyway, I'm glad all this happened or else I'd still me stick in "what's his name"'s trap.

Don't (just) blame "what's his name"

If I try to go back to the original question, that is about handling growth..

...It is interesting trying to pick through this thread, and it exemplifies part of the problem, that is "people". I suspect the other part is "money"

Problem is that there are only a limited number of "people" who have the time, or inclination, to inhabit online communities, and I would postulate that they do it for a number of reasons

1. To actually learn something. Give and take within the community. The need people have to preen, means that nuggets do drop out.

2. To socialise, it can be mindnumbingly boring hacking away by yourself all day. And "my wife doesn't understand me"anyway

3. To "dominate" a community. Sort of like the guy that wants to become captain of the local golf club, with everyone touching their cap to him. You see it particularly at DMOZ, or at any of the "we have a new moderator" threads at places like IHU or WMW.

There appear to be around 5000 active editors at DMOZ, I have no idea how many get to say 1000 posts at WMW but I suspect its less than 1000, TW has around 600 signed up and maybe half those active.

Then you have the "tail" - "where is my AdSense cheque", "what's PR" people. DMOZ has had 60,000 sign up as editors, WMW gets tens of thousands a day (according to Alexa anyway), I bet TW has considerably more than 600 looking at it.

If the name of the game is to make money (come on guys, that is the name of the game) then the money has to be in the tail - unless you can get a small core to pay a four figure sum (we had this discussion here a while back)

If my synopsis is vaguely correct, then the bell shaped curve is probably inevitable, as the hard core of activists move on when they are drowned out by the "noise" of the newly arrived "tail". The site owner meanwhile, is laughing all the way to the bank - until the "tail" realises that they are not learning anything and that the action is over at Threadwatch (or whereever).

So you get:-

1. Stampede to Threadwatch
2. TW owner starts running pub conferences
3. TW owner discovers big source of income in pub conferences
4. TW owner neglects day to day running of board, delegates it to mods who revel in new found importance
5. Mods get cheesed off when TW owner buys ocean going yacht with profits
6. Mods leave to set up camp elsewhere.
7. Others leave to follow knowledge fount
8. Bell shaped curve set to drop to nowhere.
9. TW owner retires to large villa on the Mediterranean.
10 It all starts again somewhere else

Paranoid or Power Crazy

-1 Board owner is paranoid to start off with and goes deeper into his shell as time goes on resulting in no trust and a loss of respect by the mods.

Then they arrive at TW..

hey sid_yadav good to hear from you again, i was wondering were you had been hiding..

TW and plans for the future

1. Stampede to Threadwatch
2. TW owner starts running pub conferences
3. TW owner discovers big source of income in pub conferences
4. TW owner neglects day to day running of board, delegates it to mods who revel in new found importance
5. Mods get cheesed off when TW owner buys ocean going yacht with profits
6. Mods leave to set up camp elsewhere.
7. Others leave to follow knowledge fount
8. Bell shaped curve set to drop to nowhere.
9. TW owner retires to large villa on the Mediterranean.
10 It all starts again somewhere else

There's much to be learned from something like wmw, and the way that it's charming owner runs it, but it's only one example - there are lots of large communities out there and much to observe. Why dont we keep this thread useful and genericize?

I'd like to take cornwalls post as a starting point for outlining a few thoughts i've had on TW first though - as you've made it rather specific :)

The forum format
Whereas the forum format has it's place, undoubtably, it's not what TW is all about. This site was originally set up as something to do with time that would have otherwise have been spent smoking heroic amounts of weed and drinking oneself to death - i got the sudden urge to clean up my act and was quite frankly, a little embarrased not having a personal site to show people.

However, this doesn't mean that it didn't evolve of course, im just giving a little background.

Having been a member and mod at wmw, and having also been very active at SEW among other places i've seen a fair few things i like and dislike in the forum format - and had a chance to work out what i think it is that troubles me as a member about some of these places. Let me give you a few of the more obvious ones, the ones that trouble me the most:

  • Elitism - mods clubs, senior members, closed circles
  • Noise - repetition, questions more suited elsewhere, questions in general
  • The "help me" attitude - members feeling they are owed answers, do my homework posts

There are clearly many more that could be listed and much detail to put on each of the few points I highlighted but those are the ones that when thinking about the future of TW, give me sleepless nights...

Now, a few thoughts on each of those points in relation to how i feel about this place:


I've done a few things to avoid any potential divide amongst those that hang out here - it's not perfect, but then i doubt that there is a perfect solution - you're welcome to help, naturually :)

  • No user ranks
  • No post counts
  • No "moderators" and mods clubs
  • No immediately visible join date

Most of that is self explanatory, but let me briefly mention that as this place grows, i'll need a little help - i've come up with a few ideas myself and have, discussing with a mate in IM last night, honed those thoughts into something that may well work without causing a "them and us" scenario - bear with me, it's not done yet.

With the rest of the things i've purposeley left out of this system, it's simply a case of you're as good as your last post.


Noise is a biggie right? I think so anyway. Im a big fan of looking at things, working out what i want them to do, throwing tradition out of the window and doing what i think right - If you dont want the noise of a help forum, dont run a bloody help forum - I cant think of any good reason why you cant have all of the good things that forums bring us but throw out those things that wind us all up.

So, this isnt a help forum. In fact, arguably, it's not a forum at all. It's a "group blog" - help posts, and posts of the "one liner nature" are ruthlessly removed, whether you've been here 5mins or since day 1. It doesnt mean that at peak times in the week there might not be quite a few posts, but with a cold hearted look at quality of every post that's made, it does mean that what is left (and i very rarely have to remove anything as members seem to get this point) is good stuff. I remove repetitions: Usually asking the poster to comment on the existing thread or just pointing out that we covered it earlier in the week already and i also remove pure questions.

There are ways to get answers here, but you have to write the post in the right way.

These rules are clearly not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but ya know? Im ok with that - whereas this place will almost certainly get more popular, i just dont think we need the "do my homework" masses posting here right?

Where it may get noisey, and what will be done
It might well get busy in the comment here - the actual post are, at the moment, well taken care of, but the what do we do if the comments get noisey?

Nothing - that's my first thought. I dont really see a big issue with that. If it becomes an issue, and members talk to me about it, we'll come up with something, but for now im not to worried about that possiblilty. If it bothers you, or you have something to add, please do...

Membership levels and posts
As i mentioned, the very format of the site, coupled with a little ruthless administration on my part should keep the noise down on posts themselves but, im not averse to shutting the memberhip registration down during points of heightened interest from outside, or if we feel things are headed down a wrong path. It's up to you guys to talk to me about this stuff, sometimes i dont see the wood for the trees, and i'd be appreciated if you'd give a little constructive feedback if something bothers you here.

We have something coming up in the next couple of weeks which, i think, will draw a great deal of outside attention - the plan now, subject to change of course, is to shut down new registrations at that point. We've also considered an invite only format once we reach 1000 members - let me know what you think.

Im all written out for the moment, there's so much to cover and im really not up for writing an essay but i'll happily respond to questions and criticism if anyone would care to comment :)


Dammit, i forgot that bit - sod you for posting a bunch of damn bullet points you know i have to respond to at the weekend cornwall! heh..

The pub meet was not my idea, and is not a TW branded affair though it would be silly to give it a generic name as it was suggested and adopted (not to mention being organized) by TW members.

Quite frankly, i cant be arsed to piss around with conferences - i want to meet up with the TW boys and girls for beer and social - nothing more.

Saying that though, im really, really tempted to get a bunch or TW t-shirts made - mainly cos i think it would be fun heh...

result of a problem with commons

i think the problems of oversized communities is related to the problems experienced by anything that is expected to operate freely -- it simply becomes subject to overuse and unregulated exploitation. the good news is that this should open up a lot of opportunities for subscriber forums, though.


I would like to add that I think Elitism is the worst thing which goes around in larger communities. You have your senior members, mods, SOME "preferred members", admins and at a point -- it seems like whatever those people say -- is right. Truely, I witnessed it. You have your usual discussion, and there's a Newbie/Junior member who shares his or her opinion. At this point, nobody knows who that person actually is -- unless its revealed in his or her ID or profile, in which case it may be totally different.

So anyway, the Junior Member shares his or her opinion, when people read it they almost believe it, then along comes either: a "senior member", a "mod", an "admin" OR, in some cases, "what's his name". Since senior members have been there, in most cases for a long time, people will believe him/her. Since mods are mods because they're the so called "experts", people will believe him or her. Since admins have the ability to cancel/boot a member, and they're the so called "what's his name's right hand" or "senior experts", people will believe him. And then how can we forget what's his name. The founder of the whole herd. The conference-which-taught-you-a-lot chair person. The person who is on the board of SEMPO. The guy who is one of the very successful webmasters, or rather the person who makes all this money of others and still does. How can we not beleive what he says?

All this forum thing IMHO is totally bogus. I would rather participate in something like TW which has a whole different concept and none of that elitism. I can say whatever I want here (in some cases) without worrying about a moderator stickying me saying your post has been removed or an admin telling me "you better."

well you can't stop eliteism

and you can't help cliques and you can't avoid having favourites, however hard you work to be inclusive and fair. The trick is to not exclude people because they aren't in one of those groups - and that's hard work which some people aren't very good at.

I'm a real people watcher and all this seo dynamic and old alliances/enmities is fascinating, but I don't think the principals are any different whether we're talking about a forum clearly well known and loved by a lot of you(!) or Threadwatch, just Nick's a good host.

Just to be clear

I can say whatever I want here (in some cases) without worrying about a moderator stickying me saying your post has been removed or an admin telling me "you better."

there are some things that will be nuked without a moments hesitation - free for all's are not a good thing - we just do things a little differently to many of the other places is all :)

Question for you Nick

Yeah I was the guy who started that thread. I too was really surprised when it was front paged. WMW was just driving me nuts with the out and out rudeness and meanness going on. This is an interesting thread. I don’t have a forum on any of my sites so I did not know the inner workings of forums or bell curves but that was an interesting read none the less.

This is really the type of discussion that should be going on over there but my guess is that it would not be permitted. So Nick it begs the question if TW ever turned into a monster would this thread still be permitted?

I hope so

I can't think of a good reason why not Adoy, and welcome to TW! I prefer to deal with criticism publically and head on when it occurs, though there are naturally some types of posts that would be better dealt with in private for the benefit of all.

General subjects like this though i think are a good way to guage member feelings on subjects that are important to the growing community here - as i mentioned above, the system as it stands just does not lend itself to huge amounts of repetitive posting noise, though the comments could certaintly get busy.

If and when this becomes an issue, we'll bring it up and discuss it. We have many skilled folks in here, not tapping that resource to solve issues relating to TW would be a crime imo :)

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