I’m gearing up to dive into a big online community project at work, and one of the discussions that always has to be held fairly early on is the question of privacy. There are some advantages to having an open, publicly visible community, and some advantages to having a private, invitation-only or registered users only site.
Like most things, which choice you make depends on many factors. Here are some to consider:
Client: Is the client nervous about the project in general? If so, it may be smart to at least start out with the higher level of control that comes from a private site.
Content: What is the topical focus of the community? If it’s tech support around a product or software, then an open community allows your external gurus, the customers who are experts in the use of your product, to really shine. However, it your content is going to be focused on a sensitive topic, a closed community may actually result in more participation, as users feel safer to share their thoughts.
Control: How much control do you need over the activity that takes place on your community? What is the general maturity level of your users? Can they generally be trusted to police themselves as a community, or will you need active moderation? Are there legal issues to consider that require a higher level of control?
Consumers: What is the technographic profile of your users? Are they savvy enough to jump through the UI hoops that can be created by a closed community?
Commerce: Is this going to be a paid-access community? If so, is the entire site going to be “behind the wall” or will you have some areas accessible to the public to give prospective subscribers an idea of what they’ll see if they sign up?
Thinking through these issues is an important early step when you are planning on launching a community site.
image courtesy Fyffe on SXC