Be Excellent To Each Other

When looking at communities and trying to de-construct and understand how they work, we can often approach it from an overtly task-based approach – identifying methods in which communities are successful at doing stuff. Of course, effective, measurable outcomes are important in community, but it is also critical to sometimes help your community step back and identify some of the things we often take for granted, one such thing being friendships.

Everyone, and by that I mean everyone, including you, dear reader, needs to feel respected and socially connected with fellow community members – if this most basic need is met, effective community can give you a sense of belonging that is difficult to replace. Communities that get this right experience incredible commitment from their members, and their members engage at not only a collaborative level, but a social level too. Retention, be it staff or volunteer, is critical to the success of any collaborative group, and you can translate this into foster a culture of people being decent to each other, which invariably results in friendships, and they will be happy and stick around. Of course, this culture will not paper over the cracks of bad processes, resource issues, bottlenecks and other unsavoury problems, but good community is about multiple strands coming together to form a solid, consistent picture.

It can often be tempting to let the pieces of the jigsaw overshadow the bigger picture, don’t let it happen to your community. :)

  • Matt Philmon

    can’t stop myself….

    “and party on dude!”

  • No’

    I do perfectly agree with that. An efficient community is based on respect and friendship. But that’s exactly because of these factors that it’s so hard to get a community together in the same way.

    That’s called “human nature”. Smart people tend to have good relationships with each other, right, but even smart people can behave stupid. And you can’t force people to be friends. It’s something that comes (or doesn’t come) naturally, by alchemy.

    Of course, being open-minded, careful with newbies, listening to feedback, giving fully-explained answers to questions rather than a whole page of ranting, welcoming new contributors with respect help. A lot.

  • matthew

    I wholeheartedly agree. For our community (Ubuntu Forums) the basic foundation is, “don’t be a jerk.” :) In all seriousness, if people treat one another with kindness and respect, all our other differences can be overcome…even huge differences of opinion can be worked through to an equitable and acceptable end.

  • Odysseus Flappington

    So, how about a task-based approach to feeling respected and socially connected to fellow community members. How do we go about developing these friendships?

    Will they mean that my bug-reports get addressed faster?

  • Name Withheld

    Unfortunately, my local LUG is completely poisonous, with long-time members at war with each other. Worse than that, it’s an internationally known LUG, and some of the most poisonous people are well-known in the larger community.

    To see just how bad it can be, try browsing through the maling lists, particularly

    And it just seems to keep getting worse. Jono, since you’re in the Bay Area, if you encounter any of these people maybe you could talk some sense into them, but I doubt it. They are crusty old sysadmins and they think they know more than young upstarts like you.

  • Dirk Gently

    Very very well put. One encounter that doesn’t help the community, even by accident. Great communities are fun to be around. Its an always evening the balance to allow need for people to talk and ability to keep healthy the community.

  • Bacon Hater

    Community count = 6

    Couldn’t resist.:twisted:

  • jono

    Odysseus Flappington – (is that your real name? what a cool name!) – I don’t believe that growing friendships can be task based – it is like any social interaction, it requires general social awareness and understanding – I don’t believe you can teach people how to make friends.

  • emmajane

    Growing friendships can be task based. Most of the time we don’t actually notice the lessons we’ve learned and incorporated into subsequent interactions. A few years ago I worked with a student that has Asperger syndrome. We were constantly working out rules for social interaction. He was an absolute delight to work with and the experience did teach me that, for some, social interactions are a learned/memorized behaviour.

    Of course some of us are just plain awkward as opposed to having a labeled syndrome. The persistence of books such as, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a good reminder for me that there are always a few things left to learn about the art of being social (especially when you want to get your bug squashed). While these kinds of books are often thought of as smarmy sales books, I don’t think it invalidates points such as, “Smile” or “Begin in a friendly manner.” :)

  • José Moreira

    Hi Jono, very interesting post indeed.

    Could I translate and post it in paper form in my college?

    It seems the community that is a high school center is not so different from a free software community. We all (teachers, students, administration, etc.) would do well if following your points and those made here by many commenters above.

    Being decent to each other (as in nice, honest, accesible and open to criticism) is one of the keys of staying in a community, otherwise no sense of belonging can be felt towards it. Upper management and important individuals should practice it, as well as all the other, mere mortal members, so to speak.

    Though directive types in my community aren’t very welcoming, I understand niceness and friendship is the way to go.