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A community analysisby Kristel Coolen, An Porters, Johanna Sachtleben, Hannah Schönholz & Kristin Terhaar Community Building 2011 Hogeschool Zuyd Maastricht 1
Introduction, Platform and Place“Many studies1 suggest that virtual communities are places where people go to find emotional Onlinesupport, sense of belonging, and encouragement, in addition to instrumental aid.”2 Moreover, communitiesan online community can be considered as a place that is build up from several social mediaelement like forums, blogs etc.3 To sum up, you can say that a “virtual community is a socialnetwork of individuals who interact through specific media, potentially crossing geographicaland political boundaries in order to pursue mutual interests or goals. One of the most pervasivetypes of virtual community include social networking services, which consist of various onlinecommunities.”4 It is all about sharing something with the other community members. Thus,a community is like a network or a “web of relations among personas who share somethinguseful.”5 Therefore, the “key elements [are] information, (computer mediated) communication,social support [and] friendship.”6“The main features in virtual online communities that attract people are a shared communica- Belonging to ation environment, relationships formed and nurtured virtually, a sense of belonging to a group, communityan internal structure of the group and common space shared by people with similar ideas andinterests. The three most critical issues are belonging, identity, and interest.”7 Especially, belon-ging attracts the user the most to be part of a community. To make the members feel that theyare a part of the community, evolving member profiles helps a lot. By having an own identityin the community the users are able to “feel at home.”8 This is like getting personal. “You canpersonalize each member‘s community experience, by offering only the content and activitiesthey‘ve expressed an interest in. Although this can reinforce a member‘s sense of belonging,and create a feeling of being ‚known‘, it‘s a very tricky line to walk: you want your members tofeel welcomed without feeling like Big Brother is watching their every move.”9The community we have chosen to study is the sewing community. It is an activity-based DIY Sewing community(Do-it-yourself) community where sewers, knitters, designers and weavers meet to keep trackof their yarn, tools, projects and pattern information. The idea is to look at others for ideas andinspiration or to show your projects to help others.Because there is lots of information on DIY stuff out there on the Internet, finding the neededand right information is just getting harder with the growing number of blogs etc. Therefore, thepeople of the sewing community seek help among each other.1 Furlong, 1989; Hiltz, 1984; Hiltz Wellman, 1997; Korenman Wyatt, 1996; M. A. Smith, 1999; Sproull Faraj, 1997; Wellman, 1996; Wellman et al., 19962 http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol10/issue1/ridings_gefen.html (visited on November 12, 2011)3 Katrien Dreessen, presentation week 2, p. 314 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_community (visited on November 12, 2011)5 Katrien Dreessen, presentation week 2, p. 286 ib.7 Tardini, Stefano and Cantoin, Lorenzo (2005). A Semiotic Approach to Online Communities: Belonging, Interest and Identity in Websites‘ and Videogames‘ Communities. Academia.edu.“ Universita‘ Della Svizzera Italiana.8 Jo Kim, Amy (2000). Community Building On the Web (p. 143). Berkeley: Peachpit Press.9 Jo Kim, Amy (2000). Community Building On the Web (p. 97). Berkeley: Peachpit Press. 2
All in all, it is about one shared thing in our community: the hobby, sewing. The main aspectsare learning, teaching and experience exchange.During our research we found some sewing platforms like www.ravelry.com, www.sewingdis- Platform:trict.com and www.sewing.com, but we mainly focused on www.burdastyle.com. This com- BurdaStyle.community was founded in 2007. It is a community platform for people who sew or would like tolearn how to do it. On the platform BurdaStyle.com people can share their way of sewing andtheir own patterns. Every user’s project can be rated and commented.The “learning collaboration” is the main subject of the community. There are picture or videotutorials and instructions to teach the members how to sew with different techniques. With theuser’s profile, a member can get connected to other members and organize all patterns andtechniques in his or her own “studio”. Additionally, there is a discussion forum for like-minded toexchange ideas and help each other. The origin/basis of BurdaStyle.com is the German community BurdaStyle.de (founded in2001) and the magazine “burda”, which had its first publication in 1950.10We figured out that a “successful community serves a clear purpose in the lives of its members Purpose for theand meet the fundamental goals of its owners.”11 The online community BurdaStyle promotes platform’s existenceitself with “We are a friendly bunch using the web to bring the craft of sewing to a new generati-on of designers, hobbyists, DIYers and anyone looking to sew”.12The publisher Aenne Burda wanted to build the online platform BurdaStyle to offer the chanceto get to know the Burda products and services worldwide. She created a network to bringpeople together who like to sew and offers the products, like free and inexpensive sewingpatterns, step-by-step tutorials, skill sharing, inspiration and project ideas to people all over theworld (20 millions clicks per month).13On the BurdaStyle website, the participation of the members is the most important thing. Everyuser can publish/upload own projects to extend the content on BurdaStyle. All the projects canbe commented on or rated by other members, so the people communicate with each otherand get in contact. A lot of feedback is provided. Moreover, there are the tutorials that helpthe members to learn sewing. These tutorials are posted by BurdaStyle and members as well.Besides, everyone can publish patterns online (the origin was the paper patterns in the German”burda” magazine) to which everyone has access. Thus, the members play an important (may-be the most important) role in creating content for the community.10 http://www.burdastyle.de/wir-ueber-uns/ (visited on November 13, 2011) 11 Jo Kim, Amy (2000). Community Building On the Web (p. 31). Berkeley: Peachpit Press.12 http://www.burdastyle.com/statics/about (visited on November 12, 2011)13 http://www.burdastyle.de/wir-ueber-uns/ (visited on November 12, 2011) 3
With all its features the activity-based community BurdaStyle satisfies most of the main needs Needs – satisfied orof the members of the sewing community. As we know now, the social factor in a community not“belonging to the community as a whole, and to subgroups within the community”14 is oneof the most important needs of a member. On BurdaStyle the users are forming the content.Therefore, they can talk or discuss via the comment function, personal messages or on thediscussion board. By helping others with feedback, tutorials, skills and ideas, it is very easy tocome together and build up a social network. Additionally, the members get the chance to berecognized for their contributions in the community. When they publish e.g. their own projectsthey can get comments and appraisal for that. The feedback on their actions influences theirself-esteem.Nevertheless, we think that there are needs which are a bit neglected:The feeling of security and safety is really important for a user of an online community. “Pro-tection from hacking and personal attacks, [together with] the sense of having a level playingfield“15, need to be a fundamental part of every community. On BurdaStyle a member can marka comment as an inappropriate one. It is also possible to report an other member. But it is hardto block a member if you get abusive messages or comments. It is unclear and not that trans-parent how to deal with impolite/abusive members. The “contract” a member has to agree withat the beginning of signing up for BurdaStyle is written in a very formal language and difficult tounderstand.Moreover, there is not really the opportunity to “take on a community role that develops skillsand opens up new opportunities (self-actualization)”16. Although you can build up a certain de-gree of reputation, there is no credit system that rewards you participation. Contributing activelyand consequently does not broaden your self-actualization.Therefore, we think that the fulfillment of these users’ needs could and should be improved inthe future.As we learned, BurdaStyle is a so called ‚place‘ where members of the sewing community can Online, offline andmeet. We found out that all “communities need gathering places. [...] On the Web, a gathering hybrid participationplace can be [...] a discussion topic, a chat room, a multiplayer game, a virtual world, a website,or some combination of these spaces. To build a successful community, you‘ll want to set upgathering places that reinforce your purpose and meet the needs of your target audience.”17BurdaStyle fulfills everything stated in the comment above. This community exists and growswith the participation of its members. By interviewing some real users of the community, wefound out that they above all, like the “casual attitude and the free-flow of information”. Burda-Style is a really open-minded community, whose members enjoy exchanging information andespecially sharing their styles and knowledge. They do not compete against each other, but tryto form a supporting and peaceful community.Online participation is the most relevant part on BurdaStyle. Especially sharing and exchanginginformation and projects by using the project section, the pattern section and the personalmessages are most important to the members. User “Urban Don”18 says: “The sewing commu-nity enjoys exchanging information and sharing what they have learnt. We are not competitionbut community.” Moreover, getting information in the forum or commenting on other members’14 Jo Kim, Amy (2000). Community Building On the Web (p. 21). Berkeley: Peachpit Press. 15 ib.16 ib.17 Jo Kim, Amy (2000). Community Building On the Web (p. 38). Berkeley: Peachpit Press.18 http://www.burdastyle.com/profiles/urbandon/my_activity (visited on November 14, 2011) 4
project are crucial to the community. User “The Fabled Needle”19 confirms that, by saying thatfor her, leaving and getting comments on a project is the most essential on BurdaStyle.With reference to the interviewed members we get the impression that offline participationdoes not play such an important role for the BurdaStyle community yet. “Jen” and “Don” haveheard of some users who became real-life friends and meet offline, but both of them are notinterested in this kind of participation. We know that there are offline sewing and fabric adven-tures joined by members of the community, but meeting online is still the most common form ofparticipation.In the BurdaStyle community there are a couple of hybrid participation possibilities. For instancethe BurdaStyle sewing clubs that you can set up online and invite other members to meet offlineand sew together. Moreover, there are some events (fairs and fashion shows) that are plannedand organized online. Afterwards they take place in real life and everybody of the communitycan visit. Besides, there are also contests and competitions that are organized in the same way.Users take part in the online announced contests, by sewing their garments offline and thenagain posting their items online to get rated highly and challenge the other members.Our interview partners did not participate hybridly yet, but they know the possibilities. Thus, weassume that hybrid participation is quite important to some users, but the majority of the Burda-Style community stays with online participation only.19 http://www.burdastyle.com/profiles/thefabledneedle/my_activity (visited on November 14, 2011) 5
Participation and Personas“All around the world, in all kinds of communities, you see the same timeless social roles in ac- Different types oftion. Newcomers arrive and must prove themselves before being fully accepted. Natural leaders actorsemerge and take charge of running the show. And old-timers sit on the sidelines telling stories,performing rituals, and kvetching about how much things have changed.”1Within each community, as well as in ours, we can find different kinds of actors. It is needlessto say that not every human is the same, which we can also say for the community users. Bymeans of the research of our personas we have established three kinds of actors. We found thecreative designer, which plays more of an active role within the community, the passive follo-wer, which is on the community but does not contribute as much. And the elderly experienced,which is more of an extreme user to our platform, and is not that much represented within thecommunity.We have to acknowledge these actors within our community, and ask ourselves what theycontribute to the community. By observing these actors we can get a better idea of what isneeded, and what can be changed. “Each individual‘s role, however, changes over time. Shy vi-sitors evolve into confident contributors; eager students become knowledgeable teachers; andnovice game players become tournament champions. It‘s your job as a community builder tocreate an environment that fosters these basic social roles, while meeting the changing needsof your members as they become progressively more involved in community life.”2The different actors obviously participate differently within the community. Features our creative designer uses: • adding friends • comment function • personal messages • facebook login Aspects: • project section: uploads own projects, rates and comments on other projects • technique section: shares own techniques and describes them • favourite section: shows others what her favourite projects and patterns are • connects her Burda profile to her blog • makes sewing videos and publishes them on her YouTube-channel1 Jo Kim, Amy (2000). Community Building On the Web (p. 115). Berkeley: Peachpit Press.2 ib. 6
Opposite: • discussion forum • does not use online shop because she only downloads free patterns on BurdaSty- le and other sites (freevintageknitting.com, Vintage Purls) Features our passive follower uses: • posts on the wall • send personal messages • uses her facebook login Aspects: • project and patterns section to get new patterns and ideas • learning section to learn new techniques Opposite: • does not join discussion (forum) • does not use the Gallery • does not read the Burda Blog • does not use online shop because she only downloads free patterns because she has not that much money (student) Features the elderly experienced uses: • comment system • sending personal messages Aspects: • discussion forum • learning section • project section Opposite: • does not like to use the wall • Facebook log-in • does not use the online shop (only free patterns, and Burdastyle magazine pat- terns)To represent our sewing community we have created two personas. They fit within the ‘actor- digital identity /roles’ of the creative designer and the passive follower, mainly because these are the 2 main relation to real lifeactors within the community. Casey Cartwright is our creative designer and Lisa Wong is thepassive follower. Generally, we can say that Casey is our active member and Lisa is the passivemember.“Every contribution to digital identity is the result of a conscious decision to include or excludeparticular information pertinent to their digital identity.”3 The digital identity, which our actorsdepict on the sewing community are a compilation of our research. We have established a pro-totype identity for both our actors.3 Katrien Dreessen, presentation Identity, p. 16 7
Casey Cartwright is a 26-year-old woman who loves fashion, sushi and fast cars. She has been The two personassewing since she was a little girl. She loves to go to garage sales, in order to find new and dif-ferent fabrics. She is eager to find vintage accessories, because of her love for the mid 30’s tolate 50’s. This is why her clothes are based on this period.Lisa Wong is a 20 year old college student who is addicted to Facebook and Youtube. Inher free time she relaxes by playing her guitar. She wants to be unique and feel good in herclothing. She does not like mainstream clothing designs. She is eager to get good grades andsucceed at school.Casey LisaEvery person has got goals in real life. These goals can also be translated to the community in Goals and reasonswhich they take part. for the participationCasey Cartwright’s goals are both internal as external. She participates in the community forherself, but also for other people. That is why she loves to help other people. She shares hercreations with other Burdastyle members. This can not only be seen as an external goal butalso internal. One of the reasons Casey wants to help other people, is so she can feel betterabout her self, and get better self-esteem. Casey also wants to sell her own fashion, she isalways eager to learn new things. And that is why she is a member of Burdastyle, because thiscommunity helps her learn new things and get inspiration. Casey also is the founder of a Burda-style sewing club, where she teaches other her love for vintage clothing.Lisa Wong’s goals are particularly based internal. She wants to look good and fashionable, butdoes not like mainstream clothing that can be found in local stores. That is why she designs herown clothing. Her goal is to improve her sewing skills and get inspired on the Burdastyle com-munity. Evenso, most of Lisa’s friends are on Burdastyle online, where they meet. Lisa thinks itis really important to connect with people on the community. She likes to establish new friend-ships, in order to keep connected with other people. 8
ProposalAlthough BurdaStyle is a really matured community, there a still some aspects that could be Currently missingimproved. Nowadays it is important that users get an appropriate access to a website on every or lackingdevice. The usage of mobile devices increases incessantly. Therefore the online appearancehas to be adapted to the different devices. BurdaStyle has not accomplished these adjustmentfor instance with an app yet. For the members it is hardly possible to get the suitable accessto their community features on their mobile devices like they are used to on the official website.According to Amy Jo Kim “System access [and] the ability to maintain one‘s identity, and par-ticipate in a Web community” is a physiological need, that has to be fulfilled in order to enablea successful community. If BurdaStyle would adjust this lack the sense of community could beempowered. For instance questions could be answered more frequently and messages ex-changed while being on the way. Besides it is more handy to use a mobile phone while you aresewing. Members could recall online tutorials directly on their phone in order to solve a “sewing-problem” instantly.Another quality that is missing on BurdaStyle is the “Membership Life Cycle” that actually shouldbe a part of every community’s basis. In fact the users can estimate themselves and post theirstatus afterwards. But that only refers to their sewing skills not to the activity within the com-munity. Such a system with different social roles holds a community together and enables themembers to participate easily and consequently improve their identity and community status.The “Membership Life Cycle” Amy Jo Kim developed includes five different stages a membercan represent: visitor, novice, regular, leader and elder1 depending on the level of contributing.The different stages could be connected to special tasks a member can apply. “Regulars” keepeverything in business by contributing actively. “Leaders” in turn keep the community runningby occupying official roles additionally. They may welcome, introduce and instruct new mem-bers for example or offer tutorials. Dividing tasks could lead to a circular flow of interaction. Themembers feel connected and above all responsible for their roles. Thereof the whole communitycan benefit.On BurdaStyle there is only one special status with which users can extend their own reputati-on. The can become “Featured Members”. The “Featured Members” are selected by the Burda-Style team. The election is based on a combination of beautiful photography, creativity and aunique aesthetic. Featured Members usually have a fair amount of projects in their studio to beconsidered. They are chosen based on overall quality and presentation of work and their activityon the site. However, there are now special tasks that are connected to this rank. The user whobecomes such a member earns selfesteem but that does not really influences and empowersthe rest of community. For our sister group we started to analyze a fashion community that diddevelop a “Membership Life Cycle”. On chictopia.com user can have four different ranks: Theycan be a usual user, a Style Council member, a Style Icon or a Chic VIP. The last three ranks of-fer the users new opportunities you do not have as a usual user. To become e.g. a Style Council1 Jo Kim, Amy (2000). Community Building On the Web (p. 118). Berkeley: Peachpit Press. 9
member you have to have 200 or more Chicpoints. After you got this rank your votes on useroutfits count more the regular votes. With their votes the Style Council members can decidewhich outfits will appear in the Style Gallery.As already stated above BurdaStyle is a very well organized community. It became an impor-tant platform for sewing-lovers all over the world. Of course there is a need of improvements insome sections but a community prospers with its members, ans BurdaStyle definitely does.To improve the BurdaStyle platform it is important to come up with new features which helpthe community and therefore empower the members. Some features do not fit to that kind of New feature ropo- pa community or some are just too often to find in other platforms like a credit-system or a shop salsfunction. BurdaStyle is a platform with the purpose bringing people together who like sewingor would like to learn how to sew. In our opinion a credit system would destroy the sense ofthe community. It is part on BurdaStyle to help each other, participate with own experiences,patterns or tutorials. If a member should pay for the help, the goal of the platform would notfit anymore. BurdaStyle leaves it up to its members if they want to show a link to their shop(e.g. etsy.com or dawanda.de) in their profile. We firstly thought of integrating a shop functioninto the website, but selling clothes is neither the purpose of BurdaStyle nor is it a function themembers really need on this specific platform, because it is mostly about sewing and creatingoutfits, not selling them.“[...] Web communities usually start with relatively few gathering places and a minimal featureset.”2 BurdaStyle is already a huge platform with lots of features. But with time the communi- Start smallty grew and it is possible to offer more features to enhance it. So we had ideas of some new and then growand remarkable features to extend the BurdaStyle community and make it more unique. But afeature cannot be created overnight, you have to plan, build, get feedback on it and then launchit. Of course there are smaller features that can be introduced in a quite short time (e.g. onlinestreaming, technology is already existing Skype), but there are also broader extensions forthe community like real strategies for the future. They have to be planned (structures, policies),designed, built and implemented over a long period of time. There can be as well a company,other platforms or business partners who have their credits in it and are published together withthe feature.After launching a feature it needs to be clear for the members why they should use this fea-ture, what does make it easier, what are the advantages for the members and the communityholders. “In any case, the community will run more smoothly if members are empowered towork [...]” Very important is the participation of the members in BurdaStyle, they are responsiblefor the content. To give them another tasks like helping or participating in new features, it is anextension for them as well as for the whole community.When you download a pattern from the current BurdaStyle site, you get this pattern only forsizes that are made by the creator of the pattern. Mostly, there are several sizes drawn in one Measure Assistantpattern. To find out the right size for you, you have to take several measures of yourself andlook them up in the BurdaStyle size chart. If one of the sizes offered in the pattern you want touse fits you, you have to print it and then cut out the pattern in this size. This can be very com-plicated because you constantly have to figure out which are the lines for your size to cut alongthem. Moreover, some member maybe need very big or small or in another way extraordinarysizes. Right now they nearly cannot find any fitting patterns or they have to re-design alreadyexisting patterns.2 Jo Kim, Amy (2000). Community Building On the Web (p. 66). Berkeley: Peachpit Press 10
To solve this problem and make the process of getting the fitting pattern more comfortable wethought of a measuring assistant: If you have found a pattern you like, you can start the assis-tant and type in all the required measures. You can type in your individual measures. After that,the measure assistant will create your very own pattern. All the measures you typed in will besaved in your profile (not visible for public) and can be reused for the next projects you want tomake.The measure assistant can integrate members with an extraordinary size and members whocannot re-design the pattern into their size. It is an additional feature for the community to sim-plify handling with sizes, which are very important for sewing. This feature might be taken moretime to launch, because it needs to be fully developed.At the moment there is only one possibility for the members to communicate with each other Live Tutorialswith help of communication tools other than writing/messages. This possibility consists of the‚normal‘ tutorials available on BurdaStyle. The members can watch video or photo tutorials thathave been produced by other members in forefront. Actually, this is not interactive and does notenhance social behaviour. Therefore, we thought of a way to provide more possibilities for themembers to communicate with each other and make them interactive: live tutorials.Live tutorials that are offered online could extend the possibilities of the already existing videotutorials. These tutorials could be offered as ‚online classes‘. Everyone who wants to join hasto sign up for a class and when there are enough participants the list is closed and the classwill take place at a certain date. During the class the ‚teacher‘ puts a video stream online inwhich the ‚student‘ can see what he is doing. He shows something like e.g. sewing a skirt andexplains it at the same time. When the students have a question they simply can ask becauseevery student joins a live tutorial via a live voice chat. Additionally, they can also join by using awebcam. Then they can show the teacher what they have sewed to get more feedback. Thismakes this kind of live tutorials very interactive. 11
The online classes brings people worldwide together in a virtual classroom to talk and learnabout their hobby sewing. Members who are giving a live-tutorial can become more popularon BurdaStyle and therefore the chance to become a featured member. The technology for afeature like this is already existing. BurdaStyle and its members could use a software like Skypeto interact in the live tutorial, no matter in which part of the world they are. They can cometogether virtually.On the platform an event calender might be a very useful addition because “[in] each commu-nity, the event programming reflects the needs, interests, and daily rhythms of the people whohang out there.“# Calendars can be another lively place, with a lot going on. With a weekly ordaily calendar all ongoing events at BurdaStyle could be displayed in an appealing way. Thedifferent activities might be divided into several sections. By clicking on a particular section, theinformation is filtered and only the section-specific events are shown to the members. Possiblesections are “Live Tutorials”, “Get-Togethers”, “Contests”, “Fairs”…Another feature we want to implement can be understood as a strategy for BurdaStyle to work Burda-Buttontogether with other companies and broaden the platform’s offer of features a lot. We thought Designerof a Burda Button Designer which is an application of BurdaStyle. With this app the users cancreate their own buttons and buy them afterwards. The production of the designed buttons willbe performed by a third party like a rapid prototype developer like e.g. shapesways.com.This attempt of working together with a third party to realize the user’s needs can be transferredto a lot of BurdaStyle sections. You could also imagine e.g. an app to make your own yarn orfabrics, order them and a third party produces them. There can be many ways to follow thisstrategy of corporations with different third party producers. 12
Setting up this strategy and implementing it is a long-term process that can be extended moreand more in the future. With following this strategy BurdaStyle would not be only a communityanymore where members can share a same interest, but it would be also a connection piecebetween the members and third parties. In this way the platform might become even moreattractive to the users.Our new proposed features could help the members and the platform a lot. It would extend ConclusionBurdaStyle and make some things easier. New corporations could be created between Bur-daStyle and newly integrated partners like a video software company as Skype or differentcompanies of rapid prototyping.The timeline visualizes the chronological order in which our future features should be implen- Timelinemented into the existing community. The position in the timeline is dependent on the point ofimplementation (either now, or in the future). Measure Assistant Online tutorials BurdaButton Designernow future 13