Sociability is concerned with the social interactions that community members have
with each other via computing technology (Jones & Preece, 2006). Within online communities, members need to feel the presence of other members. Social presence is the degree to which members of a community feel connected to one another (Swan & Shih, 2005). When questions are posed, responses are posted, advice is offered, or resources are provided, members need the virtual equivalent of a head nod, a smile,
a thank you, or some other acknowledgment. Members on the periphery of the community are likely to become more engaged in the community if they discern a palpable social presence. Creating social presence is particularly important in the early stages of community growth. Successful communities often designate community “hosts” to welcome new members to the community and ensure that member participation is positively acknowledged. Community moderators often call on core members of the community to ensure that newcomers receive responses to their questions or contributions.

The usability of an online community is concerned with the features and functions that enable users to interact successfully with technology across the human-computer interface (Jones & Preece, 2006). Usable community software is a key enabler for knowledge sharing in online communities (Ardichvili, 2008; Barab, MaKinster, & Scheckler, 2003; Farooq, Schank, Harris, Fusco, & Schlager, 2007; Jones & Preece, 2006). The essential software components must include architecture for the information that supports the community; tools for searching the information and navigating through it; a design of the dialogue format; and access (Jones & Preece, 2006). The design of an online community must enable flexible use and support a diverse range of use. Further, there is a growing need for designs that allows content generated by the community to be archived in a way that is easily searchable and usable in the future.

Planning and Implementation Guidelines

  • Designate community hosts to welcome new members and facilitate social presence within the community.
  • Particularly in the early stages of the community, monitor community activity to ensure that members who post receive some sort of response to their post.
  • Personalize responses to posts, for example, a response such as “@Lisa, I had a similar experience with…” provides a personalized acknowledgment of a post that Lisa created and then builds on it.
  • Highlight contributions from members in weekly or monthly newsletters.
  • Provide acknowledgment functionality through which members can “like” forum posts.
  • Provide “who’s online” indicators and activity streams.
  • Enable profile pictures to be displayed with posts.
  • Capture and archive artifacts of knowledge sharing among members for future use by members within the community and possibly outside the community.
  • Develop efficient tagging systems and search engines for knowledge repositories.

More about community usability can be found in the Technologies for Online Communities of Practice brief, available on the Connected Online Communities of Practice website at http://edcocp.org.

Next: Measuring Success

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