Is the Hardest Part of Community Management Dealing With “Forever September”

I remember hearing Alexis Ohanian (founder of Reddit) talk about the biggest challenge they had as a community early on was “Forever September” or the notion that every year the culture of Reddit would change as more students would have ample free time and high quality internet connections. This has always fascinated me as I run and attend events. How do you keep the energy to welcome new members (that at one time were you)?

I was on the Making a Murderer documentary subreddit today and caught the following post:

We really should stop all the immediate hostility towards the reposts. I really feel that it’s discouraging people from contributing. I understand that it gets annoying to have the same things posted all the time but it would most likely be more productive to provide a link to the thread so they can contribute to it instead of berating new comers immediately.

The community around the documentary which is less than a month old is already having a hard time welcoming new members.

Is this fatigue the hardest part of any type of community? How does a community deal with new members in a sustainable way?

  • Joel Bush

    Interesting questions. Thanks, yo, and btw I hope and trust all is well with you and yours.

    Answers might depend on why the community exists. Communities with different
    reasons for being might evidence different patterns w/r/t how to “deal
    with new members in a sustainable way.”

    I can see how bonding over something like a documentary can lead to many new folks repeating questions asked and answered by earlier new members. If that community forever focuses on the individual’s journey through all the facts, theories, angles, etc., and if new events, facts, theories, and angles occur at a much slower pace than new members arrive who want to pore over the facts, theories, and angles that others have already covered, then, yes, a stratification will set in fast because everyone kinda follows the same path through the same material but at different times, even if only separated by weeks or even days.

    If that info-ingestion effort, which is totally legit, could be separated from the effort of “Ok, now we all know all the same things about these facts, theories, and angles, so what can we together do about this situation?” then the community would have a shared purpose that is forward looking and, actually, unknowable until they work it out
    together. Everyone would all be working in concert then, as opposed to digging through info in the same stages but at different times.

    So, if a community’s reason for being is helping an individual learn what is known, it might have one pattern for new members. And if a different community’s reason for being is to work together on something that is for now at least unknowable, it might have a different pattern for new members.

    You know The Regulars crew in Austin, yes? (http://regulars.tumblr.com/). We don’t have this new-members issue in the same way because we aren’t about anything other than the people who show up on that Friday morning. There is no fixed stack of information to learn and theorize about. There is simply another Friday morning and the people there with you. We hang out and help each other.

    The community embraces new folks because embracing whomever is there is the only purpose, if there is even really a purpose at all. Many other things occur, but they are incidental.

    I try to listen whenever Christina Xu talks about community. You might dig:
    https://medium.com/chrysaora-weekly/signal-space-structure-designing-for-communities-of-interest-d09ad8454f57#.27j9z2gqp
    http://5by5.tv/capital/2

    I have not answered your questions well, but it got me thinking, and hopefully the above gets you thinking. I hope to see you soon, I’m guessing by March at the latest, eh? Maybe we can rap on this in person then at The Regulars. Best as always.

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