Have you ever wondered why Youtube comments are so often insulting and mean?
Well it has to do with the culture of Youtube. In online communities, culture is the set of beliefs users have about who belongs and what is appropriate to say.
Culture is tricky because it isn’t something that you can design per say. Instead it’s something you cultivate— like a gardener.
Here are some ways to cultivate culture in an online community.
Take a look at this swanky restaurant. Notice how the waiter is holding his hand behind his back? The expensive dish ware? These are signals about who belongs. You wouldn't feel comfortable eating here in sweatpants.
This is why when you go to Stack Overflow (an online community for developers) you see nuanced, technical questions. Like the restaurant, they are signaling who belongs.
People get invested once they pay for something. It's why those who pay cover typically stay at a bar longer. It's also why online community Ask MetaFilter requires members to pay a one-time fee of $5. The fee gets a user to invest in the community before joining.
One of the secrets to Yelp is their Elite Squad. Users have to write noticeably helpful reviews to become an Elite Squad member— but Yelp rewards the Elite Squad with regular parties at local hotspots.
The NY Times highlights reader comments they judge to be interesting or thoughtful. This models ideal comments for the community— and rewards those who comment in a positive way.
Every poor discussion in an online community is a signal to users that inappropriate behaviour is tolerated. Closing these discussions removes those signals.
None of these strategies told users how to behave. They only encouraged behavior. That's because culture can't be designed— it can only be cultivated. If you'd like to learn more I’d suggest watching Joel Spolskys talk on Cultural Anthropology.
I'm working on more explainer posts like this one. Subscribe to my newsletter to hear when they're published: