Common Threads: Online Community And Summer Camp

On the first day you’re a little nervous. You don’t know anyone here, but one of your friends highly recommended trying it out. You have one friend for now and you can think about making more later (or not). The person who seems to be running the show approaches you and introduces themselves. They ask where you’re from, and what kind of things you like to do. They seem really nice, and their genuine welcome makes you feel more comfortable immediately. You decide to explore, and make a great discovery. There are lots of people here who have the same interests as you! And they all like to play! Soon you’ve made new friends, and you’re inviting your other friends to come try out this place too. You’ve become part of the community, and that feels great.

Having spent thirteen summers as a camper or camp counselor, the process of becoming part of an online community felt very familiar. In both cases groups of people with similar interests are brought together to talk, bond, and play. Both types of community offer a valuable opportunity for learning. Given the specialized focus of summer camps and online communities (ie. Yelp or SoundCloud) those present have been prescreened, in a sense, for having common interests. One type of community has campers and counselors, while the other has users and community managers.

You probably get the picture by now.

So what compels me to make this comparison? Having been involved in both types of community I believe that community managers can learn from the structure of summer camps. The methods used by camp counselors when communicating with administrators could contribute to enhancing the interactions between CMs and engineers. User support reminds me a great deal of hearing out the complaints of concerned parents, while honors given to outstanding campers remind me of the Yelp Elite and Foursquare Superusers.

I can’t exactly pinpoint what CMs can take away from this yet, but once I can, I’ll let you know.

Experiencing Online Community, Offline OR Why I Love Yelp

yelp life

I learned about the Yelp Elite community this past summer while watching Ligaya Tichy’s TED talk on rethinking startup communities. I was intrigued by the images of fellow Yelpers eating and partying together in cool venues. I thought to myself, “wow, this is my kind of community”.

I researched the qualifications needed to become a Yelp Elite in San Francisco, and discovered that it was extremely competitive with Elites having reviews numbered in the thousands. This wasn’t that surprising considering that Yelp originated in SF. As a newbie Yelper in SF my chance of becoming an Elite was about as good as my chance of reaching the intersection of Market and Octavia when the light was green during my post-work commute. So although I continued to use Yelp as a resource, I put my dream of becoming an Elite on the backburner.

When summer ended I headed back across the pond to spend another semester studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Returning to my favorite eating haunts, I was inspired to get my review on. If you’ve ever started writing Yelp reviews while procrastinating then you’ll understand how addictive it can be. A few weeks later the Yelp London Community Manger, Alex Shebar, contacted me with an invitation to join the Yelp London Elite Squad.

Needless to say, I was pumped.

Though I was initially somewhat intimidated by the idea of meeting a group of strangers who were older and more experienced Yelpers than myself, I brushed my fears aside and attended the next upcoming event.

It. Was. Awesome.

Suddenly I was making friends with interesting new people who had tastes similar to my own, seeing parts of London I would have never otherwise seen, and best of all for a student: getting to try amazing restaurants for free. The worst part of the experience is that when I leave London in four weeks I’ll be leaving behind an amazing (growing) crew of Yelpers (who have promised to come do some Yelping with me in SF). I’m also comforted by the thought of meeting more Yelpers in Hartford while I finish my last semester at Trinity College.

In preparation for writing this blog post I rewatched Ligaya’s TED talk having now experienced the Yelp community first hand, and it blew me away. Instead of summarizing the points she makes, I’m going to include her TED talk here:

Looking at the Yelp community experience from this angle, all I can say is that everything Ligaya says in her TED talk is absolutely true. The genuine friendships I have formed through the offline gatherings of the London Yelp community have enriched my time in London like nothing else could have. I feel so lucky to have had this experience, and I will continue to advocate becoming active in the Yelp community to my friends, acquaintances, and readers. If nothing else, I hope you will consider getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new.

You never know, there could be free food.