About Social Community Network Features

Below you will find a list of the typical features of a social community networking site.  Each editorial review notes whether a platform provides these features.  Along with a brief description of each feature are some specific concerns and functionality to be aware of when evaluating a site.  Some social networks will require all of these, while others will only need a small subset.  It's also possible your network may need a feature not listed here.  If so, we'd be curious to hear about it.

In addition to the features below, you may also be concerned about general features of the web site like security, storage space, allowed bandwith usage, user permissions, spam protection and more.

Forums

Forums are discussion boards where users can hold conversations about various topics.  They are often the centerpiece of group communications alongside, possibly, a mailing list. For this reason, they should provide the opportunity for clear, easy to follow conversation. When evaluating the functionality of a forum, you may want to consider whether it:

  • Provides the abiility for users to quote other posts.  The easier this is to do, the better your users will likely be at making it clear what forum post they are responding to.  If this functionality is missing or difficult to employ, it may become challenging to follow an involved discussion.
  • Threads the conversation posts.  Threading is the process of indenting a reply under the specific post it was in reply to.  While not as imperative as quoting, it can make a reasonable replacement for quoting and makes it easier for a user tofollow a conversation or even skip segments of a discussion they aren't interested in.
  • Allows the ability to subscribe to forums or posts.  One challenge in moving from email lists to forums is keeping discussions active.  With email, the discussion is right there in the users email box.  With many forums, the user has to visit and possibly log in to the web site to see any new discussions.  If a user has the option to subscribe to forums and/or posts, this will help bring them back to the site by sending them an email anytime a change occurs to something they are subscribed to. This way, they don't feel they have to monitor the site constantly in order to be an active participant.
  • Gives Administrators the power to create and organize multiple forums.  Being able to separate discussions into relevant topic areas is important for groups that will hold a large number of discussions.
  • Allows users to attach files to their posts.  Some groups will want to be able to post pictures, screen shots, and even videos to their discussion posts.  Note that this will have a significant impact on your storage and bandwith usage.  Often a good compromise is the ability to embed links to content that is hosted on other sites.
  • Allows the use of HTML.  If used properly and secured, this can allow people to use different colors and fonts in their posts to add some visual interest as well as direct links to content they may be discussing.  Note that you'll want to ensure the platform provides protection against spam and javascript attacks that could wreak havoc in your community.

Events

Many groups are centered around events.  This could be a local gathering, an online event, or member birthdays.  Events are often, but not always, integrated with a calendar. When evaluating the functionality of a site's event system, you may want to consider whether it:

  • Provides the ability for both administrators and users to create events.
  • Integrates with a calendar.  This is important for groups with a large number of events and for users that like to have a "big picture" view of what's happening in the community.
  • Allows events to be public or private.  Some users may want to hold a private event where they only invite a select group of members.
  • Allows members of the site to be invited.  This is especially important if not every member of the site will be invited and/or you want to be sure everyone is made aware of the event.
  • Has a signup or RSVP system.  Coordinators of events often want to have an idea of who and how many will be attending their event before it begins.
  • Has all the fields you require like start and end date/time, location, description, number of attendees allowed, notation for guests and others.
  • Allows the creation of recurring/repeating events.  Many community groups have events that happen on a regular basis at a specific date and time.  Being able to easily create multiple instances of these events at once is a great time saver.
  • Integration with a mapping site.  Some platforms include the ability to have the location entered for an event plotted on a map service like Google Maps, making it easier for users to find the venue.

Groups

A natural progression for any community is for members to form smaller groups within that community.  The ability to form these SubGroups is vital to the health and growth of many organizations, especially online social communities. What features are then avaialable to those SubGroups becomes an important point of evaluation when seeking the ideal platform.  Most sites will provide for Groups to, at a minimum, have their own discussion forum.  Beyond that, you may want to investigate whether they also:

  • Allow the groups to be, not only public, but "invite only" (i.e. seen by the membership but you can only join if invited) and/or "private" (completely invisible on the site to all but those who are members).
  • Allow the group administrator to create additional forums.
  • Allow the group their own set of any other features mentioned here.  For example, can the group create it's own blogs?  Can they create events visiible only to the group?  Do they have their own space for saving files, videos and/or photos?  Are those features as robust as the ones provided to the group at large?
  • Provide Group administrators the ability to change/modify the features avaialable and/or the look of the group's layout.

Blog

A blog is a space for site administrators and/or users to write about their experiences or other things that usually relate to the topic of concern for the site. The most useful functionality you might seek in blogs might be the ability to:

  • Utilize tags and categories to organize blogs and make them easier to search.
  • Save draft copies of a blog before publishing
  • Featuring specific categories or bloggers, allowing them to appear on the front page or some other prominent location.
  • Allow users to subscribe to specific blog categories and/or authors.
  • Make a blog entry public or restrict it to a certain subset of members.

Photos, Videos and Files

Being able to see other users through photos and videos of them and community activities is often a tool for strengthening the community. Some communities will also desire the ability to upload documents, programs, code, modules and other items that do not fall under the heading of video or photo.  Some things to consider when evaluating these features include whether the site:

  • Provides enough storage and bandwith for file transfers of the type you desire.  This is also highly dependent on your budget since most tiered plans include restrictions on storage and bandwidth.
  • Allows administrators to set restrictions for the size and type of files to be uploaded.
  • Provides tools for organizing files that are uploaded.
  • Has integrated media players that allow all users to access the files regardless of tools available on their own computers.

Chat

Some platforms offer real-time chat functionality integrated into your web site.  This allows users to communicate directly with each other much like in programs like Yahoo Messenger.  This is often a premium feature, only available with higher level paid packages.

 

Polls

Polls allow administrators and members to guage the thoughts, opinions and preferences of other members by allowing a vote. Rather than a lengthy, detailed discussion, sometimes you or other users might want to quickly gauge how the members feel about a specific subject.  Polls are an ideal way to do so.  The basic features you'll likely want to ensure are present with this feature are the abilities to:

  • Create several possible answers to the question posed by the poll.
  • Ensure that each member may only answer once (but may have the option to change his answer prior to the closing of the poll).
  • Enter a start and end date for the poll.
  • Display poll results in an interesting manner and/or have the results only displayed to the poll creator or a specific subset of members.

Wiki

A Wiki is a collaborative editing system whereby several users can collectively maintain documents.  A Wiki is typically edited directly through a web browser without the need for any special programs, tools or add-ons and uses its own language for creating things like links.  Wikis are not currently common in social networking platforms but might be useful for groups that wish to collaborate on projects.