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From Alex Karasulu <>
Subject [OT] Using Agora to tune and focus community building efforts
Date Sat, 12 Feb 2005 03:24:42 GMT

I wanted to share a particular experience I had while trying to grow a 
community within the incubator, the Directory Project Community.  We are 
successfully approaching the last days of incubation now and with that 
I've been thinking about what helped grow the community.   I'm hope the 
knowledge gained from this experience can help others who would like to 
build and/or strengthen their communities do so more efficiently.

First let me say that code is really easy and tangible.  You know what 
you have to do to it; meaing the features to add, how to clean it up, 
test it and refactor it.  This is not the real challenge and to my 
surprise not the biggest joy with an OS project.  The biggest challenge 
is to grow a community however it is the most rewarding feeling by far 
to watch a community gel around code.  But the only problem is how do 
you put your arms around the task?  Where do you begin?  What tools are 
available?  There are not many tools period to figure out how to focus 
your energy to get the most return for your efforts.  Many times 
community builders find themselves dissipating energy all over the place 
trying to help every perspective contributor so the community can reach 
critical mass.  Once critical mass is reached the community grows and 
flurishes by itself.  To my surprise I discovered a tool that can 
actually help.  This tool helped me focus my energy so I can start 
getting results and know how to better approach the community building 
process.  This tool is Agora.  I started playing with Agora about 6-8 
months ago.  You can get or demo Agora here:

Stefano Mazzocchi created Agora to show the relationships between 
community members through their email communications.  It basically 
draws a web where there are edges (emails) between nodes (people) in the 
community.  There are parameters used to control an algorithm that helps 
stretch and contract edges to visualize the strength of relationships.  
The tool can really help draw some concrete conclusions such as where a 
community builder needs to focus most of their time and energy.  So you 
point Agora to an email archive and it maps these relationships.  It 
draws the mesh/web of relationships and then uses forces of attraction, 
and repulsion between nodes which shows the strength of community relations.

I started using this tool just because I was curious about the what it 
might be able to show regarding the Directory community.  So I looked at 
different months where I remembered some of the dynamics.  I saw the 
relationships at a high level.  I've even took snapshots of months in a 
series to see progressions which show which dynamics lead to stronger 
bonds.  I also saw some individuals gradually pushed out towards the 
periphery so it brought my attention back on them.  These people were 
interested but for some reason their interests seemed tangential at a 
certain point in time to others.  The key was in getting the core 
players in the center of the mesh to interact with as many people in the 
periphery.  Anyhow the analysis can go on and on.  I spent a lot of time 
looking at Directory community dynamics, especially towards the last few 
months where community building was the most important concern for 
graduating the incubator.  We had vetted all IP and tradmark issues 
however we did not yet have critical mass: this was about mid last 
year.  Using Agora helped in a major way - I was able to get better 
results for the same amount of effort within two months of using the 
tool religiously.  I can't say I got to the point of analyzing, reacting 
and correlating the results of my calculated actions.  What has happened 
however is that my intuition was confirmed and strengthened by using 
this tool.  I wish I had discovered and used it earlier.

Note that it takes time to home in on the indicators which Agora reveals 
about a community.  You have to think about what was happening during 
the time period Agora has mapped.  You need to also look at a time 
series to see progressions.  Keep in mind that not all months are 
representative of normal patterns.  Agora is useful and it will help you 
really know and understand your community so you can grow and/or 
strength it in an educated manner.   The educated guesses you formulate 
eventually leads to better intuition.  Community building slowly becomes 
a more efficient endeavor when you know where and how to focus your 
energy.  There are no perfect ways to do this.  Most importantly there 
are no other tools I know of yet.


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