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Building Online Communities

Online communities are the foundation of how we communicate with each other online. There are several various types of online communities, and in this course, we'll learn how to build one together.

CurriculumAll CohortsFacilitators

Communities are a fundamental part of our social lives, and can be simply defined by groups of people who continuously come together over shared interests. We will explore communities in the context of the internet, and how older online communities have been successful and part of the zeitgeist of internet history.

Since the inception of the internet, people have been forming online communities in various iterations - from web forums, MMORPGs, chat rooms, video conferencing, social media groups, and more .

Fundamentally, we all identify with the feeling of wanting to be connected to people that we can relate to. This course is designed to help you create your own online community, in whatever way, shape or form that is best suited for the people you’re communing with. You will learn to lay the groundwork and organize your community for success, by putting the right structures in place for community management, moderation and growth.

We'll Explore These Questions/Topics:

  • The evolution of online communities over time
  • The development of technology around online communities.
  • How do you define the goals and purpose of an online community?
  • What are the elements needed to form an online community?
  • How do you keep an online community healthy?

Length / Commitment

The course runs for 5 weeks, meeting once a week on a Saturday at 1PM ET from Nov 21 - Dec 19, 2020.

Syllabus / Schedule

  • Lesson 1: Introduction to online communities
    • (45m) We’ll talk a bit about ourselves and our backgrounds, and why we want to build a community of folks online. We’ll talk about the similarities and differences between our desired communities and explore how we might approach building them.
    • (45m) Introduction to early online communities. We’ll look back at the dawn of the internet and discuss how early internet communities were started, how they performed, and how they were impacted by changing technology. We’ll also look at the various types of internet communities and which might be most applicable to your idea.
    • (30m) We’ll discuss the homework: Based on your idea and our discussion, begin building your community profile: What type of community is it? Who will be a part of this community? How will you connect with each other? Do other communities like yours already exist?
  • Lesson 2: Setting Up The Foundation
    • (45m) Presentation of Lesson 1 Homework: let’s talk about your community profiles and the value proposition of your community, in relation to the hundreds of communities that already exist online.
    • (45m) Introduction to Community Foundation: What are some of the general structures that need to be put in place to run a successful online community? We’ll talk about various platforms, methods of communication, organization and moderation.
    • (15m) Homework: Now that you’ve successfully built your community profile, it’s time to start thinking about how we’re going to set up these communities. Is your community a website? A Slack group? An online forum or social media group? Is your method of communication fundamental to the interest you share? (eg. Video games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty, etc).
  • Lesson 3: Building Collaboration & Best Practices

    • (45m) Presentation of Lesson 2 Homework: each person takes a turn sharing how they would begin building their communities and how these platforms relate to their goals/mission of the community.
    • (30m) Discussion about involving others in the building of community. Are there people that you want to do this foundational work with you? How do you approach someone asking them to get involved? What makes for good collaboration in community building?
    • (15m) Discussion about setting up expectations and best practices for both partners and future community members. As the community leader, you have to lead by example. This means setting clear boundaries for what is and isn’t accepted in community spaces. We’ll discuss the importance of a Code of Conduct.
    • Homework (30 min time given during class or can be done outside of class): Team up with someone else in the class and each write your own Code of Conduct for your respective communities, based on the resources I’ll provide in the class.
  • Lesson 4: Setting Up Your Community

    • (15min) Together, we’ll map out the steps needed to set up your communities. Think of this as your community roadmap, and we’ll aim to meet certain checkpoints before the end of the session. We’ll also discuss the onboarding experience for members, and how organization plays a part in the success of online communities.
    • (60min) In this session, we’ll mostly be working in breakout rooms to start building our communities. Depending on the type of community you’re starting, this might look like setting up a Slack Group, buying domains for your website, or other things. Do you want to pre-invite people to join?
    • (30m) After an hour, we’ll come back into the main room and discuss our progress. What was hard, what was easy, and what else do you have to do?
    • (15min) We’ll do a Q+A with the entire group, to resolve any doubts.
    • Homework: Make as much progress on your community setup as possible. Rome wasn’t built overnight, so I don’t expect you to have it fully completed by the next lesson.
  • Lesson 5: Launching Your Community and Spreading the Word

    • (15m) Community check ins: Show us where you’re at in the building process, and share any doubts.
    • (15m) Wow! You’ve set up your community and you’re ready to start telling people about it! We’ll discuss how you can find and reach community members, and invite them to join your mission. How do you ‘advertise’ your community online?
    • (30 m) What is Community Health? What structures do we need to put in place to maintain a happy and healthy community.
    • (15m) Reflect and discuss the work you’ve done to set up this community. How will you maintain it going forward?

Async Course Wrap Up:

  • (15m) Course Wrap Up: Record a short video screensharing and telling us what you built during this course. Feel free to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement!


At the end of this course, you'll have a solid foundation of an online community, and you'll be ready to reach out to prospective members to join you!

Who Should Sign Up

Folks interested in building online communities and wanting to better understand the structure that goes into building and maintaining them. It's best to sign up for this course if you already have an idea for a community in mind.

Anything Else…

If you are a member of Queer Design Club, you qualify for a discount! Reach out to Rebecca Brooker for more details.

5 weeksUp to 6 learners

You should have an idea about forming an online community, and wondering how to go about doing that. You have a strong interest in bringing people together and ready to do the work it takes to kickoff and maintain a community.

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