I've been using a draft form of this book to teach graduate-level classes on online communities for several semesters (inspired in part by Paul Resnick's excellent course on the topic at the University of Michigan's School of Information where I received my PhD). I highly recommend it for other professors and practitioners who want to understand some of the theoretical underpinnings of online community interactions as well as practical implications for community designers. There really is no recent, comparable book on the market. I'm a fan of other practitioner-oriented books, but they lack the theoretical foundation that makes this one so compelling and will also make it more enduring as specific technologies change.
The book uses a common "design claim" framework, that is excellent for students to internalize, as it teaches them a systematic and testable way to approach online community design. An example of a design claim from the book is: "People will be more willing to contribute in an online group when they think
that they are unique and others in the group cannot make contributions similar to theirs." The design claim ties a specific design principle (i.e., emphasize the uniqueness of a contribution) to a goal (i.e., increase members' contributions). Design claims also have conditions under which they may apply, such as the demographics, size, and topic of the community. The complete formulation of this type of design claim looks like this: "alternative X helps/hinders achievement of
goal Y under conditions Z". Other claims focus on which of different design alternatives will be more successful. Specific ideas on how to implement the various design claims along with the theoretical basis for them are discussed alongside each design claim throughout the book. The framework is excellent, though at times there are so many design claims it can be a bit overwhelming to students.
When using this book in teaching I have complemented it with a couple of concepts not covered much in the book:
- The design claim approach is in the positivist social science tradition (as the authors state in the Introduction chapter). While this has its benefits, it also has its drawbacks. The focus tends to be primarily on the design claims (i.e., hypotheses) and only secondarily on the context in which they appear. In practice there are many design choices that often interact with one another in complex ways, making it hard to predict whether or not a particular design claim will work in any given community. This is not a reason to ignore design claims. Rather, it is a caution that the claims may not work as expected given the nuances of a particular community. This leads to the need for my next point:
- The book does not specifically discuss methods and tools for testing these design claims in the field, though many examples are provided of such tests and the authors clearly have a good understanding of how to conduct online "field experiments" of the sort needed. Complementing this book with a couple of readings on experimental design and A/B testing tools and methods is helpful. Doing so allows community designers to test the design claims they believe are important rather than relying on a theoretical argument that may or may not work in practice.
In summary, this is an outstanding, unique book that is particularly well suited for students and readers seeking to gain a better understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of different design decisions. The chapters are on excellent topics central to all community building efforts and the design claim framework is very useful, particularly when coupled with field experiments to test a claim's effectiveness in a specific community.