By Bob Walsh
Usability expert Jakob Nielsen – who has a singular talent for going out and measuring what most of us think is happening on the Web – reports that of any group of 100 online community members, 90 are passive lurkers, 9 participate somewhat and only one is fully active. This does not bode well for micro-ISVs looking to build a community around their product or website.
Nielsen has five suggestions you should think about if your Micro-ISV product or website depends on an active customer community:

Require as little from your community members as possible.
That means no jumping through registration hoops, bare minimum of spam blocking measures and taking everything you can out of the way of participation.
Make participation a side effect of something else. For example, let’s say that you were selling a PC game with lots of downloadable levels. Showing the count or percentage each level has been downloaded would be an effective way of creating participation without effort.
Edit, don’t create. Let’s say you had a website designed to deliver custom newsfeeds to your customers. You could have each customer complete a hundred-question checklist of what they want or, you could create standard profiles users could edit to suit. You could further improve participation by then showing which of your profiles was most popular again by count or percentage.
Reward, but not too much. Everyone likes some form of recognition or reward — getting a gold star by your name or a coffee cup can be a great feeling. Judiciously build in a reward system into your online component. And if you really want to get clever about this, see this posting about why e-mail is so addictive.

Reputation ranking works.
Quantity is seldom quality. Build your system so quality participation is rewarded and recognized and people will “game the system” for that result.
As developers, we control the horizontal and vertical of what we design. If you build into your product easy participation, participation as a side-effect doing other things, rewarding quality participation and the ability to build a reputation your online community has a much better chance of being successful. As do you.

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