How Much is a Community

February 17, 2009 at 5:28 pm (Musings) (, , , , )

Jeremy Dalberg posted recently on the subject of supermassive communities. Actually the post is mostly about the relative benefits of official vs unofficial forums but that’s been done the science is in and the deniers have been denned. Scott Jennings mentioned the headline comment and, as is usual, the weird and wonderful came crawling out of the woodwork in the comments section to display some extremely poorly thought out opinions.

Jeremy’s post is mostly a critique of some points that Ryan Schwayder made on the pros and cons of official forums, but amongst all of that she makes some very interesting points on community scalability.  Communities, it is very clear work best when they are small. How small? Jeremy brings up Dunbar’s Number as a possible limit but in reality I think the answer is mutable. For a game community, a single server is probably too big to be considered a single community, an alliance or a guild is a better basic unit of community and those tend not to exceed a few hundred. If your alliance exceeds that number then the chances are you have several communities within that umbrella that can be said to be independant of each other as discrete communities. For all that we might talk about ‘the community’ on a particular server, the reality on the ground is a lot grainier than that. Just because we might end up fighting the same battle, we aren’t necessarily part of the same community. It isn’t necessarily limited to the number of simultaneous relationships any one member can sustain – hence why I don’t think Dunbar’s Number applies – but once you start going beyond second degree associations then I think you can start to define a boundary. The smaller a community is (above a certain sustainability threshold) the more tightly knit it tends to be,  this is something we see in every aspect of life from geographic location through to international associations.

The basic point of Ms Dalberg’s post is correct. However we are measuring the cohesiveness of a community, 5 million is way too many to be considered as a single entity. That’s crazy talk and is akin to assuming that putting the entire population of Belgium in a room to chat to each other and then trying to manage that would be in some way productive.

So how do you manage a 5 million member community? You don’t. You chop it up and manage a few hundred smaller ones.


1 Comment

  1. Marc Hawke said,

    Sorry this is a late comment. I just barely stumbled on your blog. (At least this post is still on the front page.

    I wonder about your definition of a community for this post. When you’re throwing out numbers it seems you mean ‘The group of people you interact with regularly.” That’s a very valid definition.

    However, when you speak of it in a broader sense, I think a more accurate definition would be, the ‘ a group of people sharing a common culture.”

    When someone talks about liking their MMO/Shard/Message Board because of the community, they are definitely talking about the people they interact with, but they are also talking about the unwritten rules that everyone has ‘silently agreed on.’

    ‘Auction House Usage’ is a good example of this. Some shards of a game might have a very useful auction house. The people on the server will have communally stumbled onto a particular pattern of usage, where the experience is win/win for all involved. On another shard however, the auction house might be polluted with trash and completely unusable. In this example one server would be preferred because of it’s ‘community’ even though you’ll never have direct interaction with most of the people.

    A community can be super-massive and still be definable as a community. I think you’re right that by some definitions communities become unmanageable after the first few hundred, but that doesn’t mean that larger communities of different sorts aren’t out there working perfectly well.

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