After my last post, John Hann asked what it means to be "…on the hook to start the community." Good question - and one that I'm about to discover the answer to :-)

The fundamental problem is that every product needs a community. You can't just throw software out the door, hope that your customers like it, and start work on the next version. Even if you've done all your use cases and your customer studies and your beta feedbacks beforehand, that's not enough. To get the most from your product, your customers must be able to talk about it with each other, and with you.

Communities can take many forms - user groups, newsgroups, web forums, IRC channels, blogs, and wikis are all communities. In fact, pretty much any form of communication that lets anyone participate can serve as the basis of a community. And a vibrant community is a powerful thing: it can come up with best practices, find bugs, document workarounds, create MVPs, and act as both your greatest booster and your most ardent critic. If you want to get a v1.0 product to v2.0, an active community is your best friend.

So we love communities. And if there isn't already a community for a successful product, then one (or several) will always appear, as if by magic. The problem is that waiting for the magic to happen takes time, and if several different communities pop up they can contain disjoint sets of customers (the IRC-ites vs. the bloggers, for example). So there's a lot to be said for seeding the process - start a blog, create a newgroup, maybe talk to some user groups, and then make sure that there's ONE central site that points to ALL of them. Welcome in any other related communities, especially the folks who wouldn't be seen dead hanging out on "official" newsgroups, and include links to them as well.

Now as a v1.0 product that's not going to ship till next year, we don't yet have a community. And we're a small team, so there's certainly no room for a full-time community position. Which means that when I started blogging and tending the Channel 9 wiki, I became the de factor "community guy". We're reviewing my draft Community Plan on Friday. Watch this space…