Researching online communities is an ongoing process. The concept itself is not physical enough to grasp so immediately. I think that the best way to know if an online community or network is indeed functional is to reflect on past experiences with specific platforms. We learn best by getting our hands dirty. Mistakes are the best possible outcome for anyone diving into a new subject matter.
I think that the best way to approach an online community is with an open mind and a high tolerance for annoying people (usually a given). Online communities are very specialized, as they strive to differentiate themselves from competing services. This dynamic encourages users like us to scan our options before diving in. Design should be held to the bare minimum functionality; one shouldn’t stress about joining a service that doesn’t feel like a natural fit to them. If anything, this mentioned stress will only hinder whatever project they’re working on. It’s plain easier to make your customers happy if you greet them with enthusiasm.
My scope of online communities is already quite broad. I have a ton of past experience with them. Yet, as a result, I feel the need to reduce this chaos to as few services as possible. It’s hard to say what I would like to learn about online communities, because I’m not currently struggling with any.
Maybe we should consider the next steps: how will we be communicating with each other in five years’ time? Or ten? But that’s another topic entirely.