Mike Sansone over at ConverStations has an interesting post about how building an online community is not about the creator or the brand--it's about the participants. He says that communities should give people a sense of ownership (for example, we don't necessarily own our Facebook pages, but we feel like we have a stake in them), and allow people to connect and feel like they are the stars of the show.
He goes on to say, "if you build a community for the sake of the community--you'll have one."
While connecting with others is a main function of communities, I would add a few things to this. You have to have a group of people with similar interests before you can build a community (duh) and you have to give them a reason to be involved, besides just ownership and making them feel like the star of the show. Community for community's sake is dead- we have Facebook, MySpace, and a zillion other networks and forums where we can already connect. For me to want to join/participate in a community it's going to have to offer something more, something with value.
New communities need to have value, beyond just connecting with people. New communities are springing up everwhere, because they serve a real purpose, such as saving people time, helping them find jobs, etc, etc. Except that there are limits to how much these can grow (not that we've reached this yet) because how many of the same type of community do we need?
Another big thing with communities that is often overlooked is fun. Facebook is so damn addicting because it's fun to see other people's pictures, wall posts, profiles, etc. Most people could care less about the new applications and "utility aspect" of Facebook; they're on it because it's fun (or at least that's why they originally joined). Maybe fun is the new value that will drive community development.
New communities should take a lesson from games like Second Life and World of Warcraft. People are involved in these games because they are fun. As Pat Coyle of Sports Marketing 2.0 suggested, maybe social networks should start positioning themselves more as games. I kind of agree. The term "social network" is overused; I still think of games as being fun.
The bottom line is that communities have to offer something to their participants. They should have purpose and provide value to people. Maybe fun should play a big role in the path to purpose. What do you think?