The Online Community Narrative
The identity of a community is directly connected to its narrative.
A narrative is the big picture. It's how everything connects. It's the past, present, and the future of the community. A narrative gives context to the daily activities/discussions and content. It creates meaning from it all.
Offline narratives are well documented. Existing residents of a town get upset when people move in without caring about the history, present issues, or the future of the area.
Online narratives haven't gotten enough attention. Narratives help keep activity high and foster a sense of community. In established/mature communities, developing and reinforcing a narrative matters. Narratives keep people coming back to see what's new in the community as opposed to seeing how people have reacted to their own contributions.
A narrative keeps members that might drift away. A member that's vanished for a few months can quickly catch up. A narrative is inclusive. It lets all members feel they have contributed. It gives all members a sense of influence.
A narrative sustains the percetion of continued progress and meaning. When people contribute to a community, they're sacrificing their time for their belief in something better.
You get to shape and reinforce that narrative. You have tools at your disposal. You have content, moderation, history, opportunities to use symbols, events and activities. You get to highlight what's important, document what mattered/what didn't, and host activities that make progress within the community.
Much of this links back to the subtle influence of community managers.
So this is the question, how do the activities that have taken place in the community (discussions, events, content) combine to form some sort of community for the community? Is there any link between them at all? What is the past history, present issues, and the future of the community looking like?