Remarkable Rules Create Remarkable Communities

Spend 10 minutes watching Priya Parker discuss The Art of Gathering (trust me).

Imagine a gathering where:

  • You can’t mention your work.
  • You can’t talk about your kids.
  • Whoever checks their phone first pays the bill.
  • etc…

The lesson is remarkable (neigh, ridiculous) rules create remarkable communities.

StackOverflow proved this years ago. When other communities were trying to collect as many responses to a question as possible, they wanted just one…the best one. They removed off-topic chatter, bonding discussions, and anything which don’t facilitate a person with a question getting the best answer possible.

In return, they created what I believe to be the best online communities on the planet.

Remarkable rules – rules that seem crazy, contrary to what people want, and against the status quo – can create remarkable communities that stand out among the crowd.

Creating remarkable rules is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to stand out among the crowd. If members engage in your community as they would anywhere else, what’s the point? What unique value does your community add to the world?

My favourite example is ChangeAView (formerly ChangeMyView on Reddit). The concept is entirely unique, it runs against what most members want/do, yet has proved fantastically popular. Skim the rules too.

And the most remarkable rules are those which sound ridiculous, are hard to enforce, and those which (at first) few members want to abide by.

Communities innovate not just by testing the limits of technology, but by testing the limits of human behavior too. There are so many innovations here. For example:

What if you banned opinions?

…and every assertion has to be supported by verifiable facts? What if members had to add examples or experiences to discussions? What if debates were ended by a vote between several options on the best way forward?

What if you banned solutions?

…and members could only reply to problems with further questions until the original poster had solved the problem for herself?

What if every member got a personal feedback scorecard?

…and they could see the anonymous comments of what others thought of them and their behavior in the community? They could see if they were trusted, respected, and seen as friendly and helpful? What if the undeniable truth was staring right at them?

What if you banned questions?

…and members could only share experiences and new information they thought others would find useful?

What if every member had to mentor at least one other member? 

…and helping newcomers get up to speed quickly was the most prestigious role in the community any member could have?

What if members applied to the community?

…and existing members went through the list and voted on who they were willing to accept. They could only accept ‘x’ number of members per month?

If you’re creating an online community today, the safe option is to create like those you see already. But it doesn’t make sense to create a community that’s similar to your competitors when they have a head start. Far better to create a remarkable community with remarkable rules.

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