Membership, Collaboration and the Interwebs

Been a good solid month since i had the brain space to blog. I’ve got a bunch of things coming up where some of the ideas that are pinging around my brain are going to need to come out… so i thought I’d better get some of them out in time to reconsider them 🙂

One of the topics that has been repeatedly coming up in discussions lately is the idea of layers of membership in a collaborative community. With the mind numbing escalation of online communities available for people to participate in, and the second wavers starting to turn their minds to those communities, its becoming more and more important to allow for multi modal membership models…

To give this a little context, let me tell you about the project that we are running at my university. We are creating virtual research environments specially designed for the needs of given research groups. We’re using a cocktail of open source products, front-ended by Drupal, and connected to the library research infrastructure to allow our increasingly distributed research groups a comfy place to do their research in a protected/open environment, to collaborate and not collaborate… kind of a perpetual conference space where they can get their work done.

Now the early adopters are loving it. No more dreamweaver, no more webex or elluminate, and fewer flights and phone calls. They are finding their research associates, keeping track of their meetings and realizing that the library is really kick ass. We’re looking at designing custom databases for specific projects and linking all of this, through a persistent digital library to our e-learning infrastructure. All that and we can get it started in five minutes and over a couple of weeks teach people enough of the basics for them to be able to control their content online.

Working pretty well… so far as it goes. The problems lies in the very ease with which is can all be created. Any whoozit with a hundred bucks can install an elgg or a drupal or a moodle or a wiki and spam the bloggosphere saying that “this is the new community… supporting (insert obscure bit of cartilage on the long tail here)” We are increasingly collaborative, increasingly involved in collaboration… We are members of our banking sites, our research sites our community sites our schools our communities of practice…
So as we move forward with our VRE project I’ve been thinking about how to deal with this assault of membership so that we can allow as many forms of membership as possible. I want to have a series of different membership types identified so that when I’m discussing requirements with a client I can lay them all out and say, for instance, “do you care if a casual member of your community can follow along with this community?”

Here’s a first shot at a list… It is by no means meant as definitive… but meant to start a conversation.

Core membership

These are the folks who are going to be at the website almost everyday. There membership in this community represents a key part of their life/practice and they are going to be very familiar with the interface, even if you’re using hieroglyphs for navigation. Most communities will have 2-20 of these… depending on size. This graph gives a real nice sense of how this looks.


  • they need to know how this community will help them
  • they need recognition/acknowledgement (of whatever kind) or their core-ness
  • they need to be included in decision making


This is the critical middle ground in any community. These are the folks who are very familiar with the community but don’t necessarily come to it everyday and might leave for months and come back. They don’t perform any ‘critical’ functions individually in any given community, but as a whole, they are essential. They keep core members from wondering off track. They supply alot of workload as a whole. They are also key to the spreading of that community. My own membership in the moodle community would be a good example of this. I participate in discussions occasionally, and have posted some 50 or 60 times on the website, but will be absent for months at a time.


  • a sense of belonging
  • the ability to leave and rejoin the community
  • direction in terms of what they can do in and for a community
  • will make an effort for rewards

Casual membership

We have alot of these people over at edtechtalk. They are folks who actually take the time to register on the website but don’t usually participate in the discussions or post of the website. They are, I would guess, the vast majority of people in an online community. They listen, read the results of work done in a community, and are often the ‘audience’ for that community. A good way of thinking about this might be someone who reads a blog but never responds to the ideas there either in comments or by blogging about the content elsewhere. It is critical in a collaborative community to know whether or not you are interested in servicing this community.


  • clear navigation
  • clearly presented content
  • tagging
  • reap rewards with little effort

client membership

These are people who are seeking a particular service from a community. These might be information seekers from a tech forum or people downloading software from an open source software community.


  • easy access to the product
  • troubleshooting advice
  • clear descriptions of the contract (social or otherwise)

Active visitors

These are people who might have a vested interest in a given piece of content, but may not wish to join a community (for any number of reasons). These people could be reporters, researchers with related interests etc… They could also be the funders of a given project who are stopping by to see how things are going. This is always critical. Many communities that are actually successful can fall on hard times because those people who might be interested in supporting it don’t ‘see’ the success of the community when they come and visit.


  • They need to be able to experience the community quickly
  • this is where about pages and tours are useful
  • clear delineated sense of the purpose of the community

 passive visitors

These people are not members of the community per say. They are people who may visit the community once.


  • a way to get something out of a piece of the experience
  • experience a piece without needing the whole

There’s a quick list. There’s no saying that a community NEEDS to support all but the ‘core membership’ people… just that you should know what kind of membership you are looking to support before you start. Some platforms do a better job when people come all the time, others for casual membership.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

9 thoughts on “Membership, Collaboration and the Interwebs”

  1. Hey Dave,

    I like the structure you have laid out here. It allows for Lurkers as well as active participants. I can think of communities that I belong to in each of the categories above…

    I’m wondering whether we want to change the type of participants at EdTechTalk, or if we can… EducationBridges allows for some of that, I think…

    Love the new theme, btw.

    – Alex

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