No, really, it’s REALLY about the People. I have proof.
Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

Four years ago, on a hot summer day, I was bored and decided to start a new website. This particular website was intended to be a community space and publishing venue for writers. I gathered up a few friends to help me sculpt it and get the word out, and together, we named it The Writ.

The Writ had massive ambitions and zero budget. For the first four months, it survived entirely on coffee, cigarettes, insomnia, optimism, and keg party marketing. When its membership jumped from 4 to 100, we were beside ourselves with shock. When we secured a $1200 grant to help with the web programming, we felt like we’d won the lottery. When we found a guy in Romania who promised to build us every web feature we ever dreamed of for $1200, we were certain that literary world domination was well within reach.

And then, when we all burned out from volunteer hours and discovered that Mr. Romania wasn’t the programmer of our dreams, we quietly admitted failure, gave up on the project, and moved on. It would die, we figured, without us — but hey, it was fun while it lasted.

So when the damned thing refused to die, we didn’t quite know what to do about it. There it was, living on without leadership or maintenance, with broken features and mysterious glitches, with ugly designs and spam-bloated forums, and with a passion and force that made absolutely no sense to us at all. New members were signing up. People were posting writing. People were commenting on each others’ work. People were creating community.

And that’s how I know I didn’t get it. In all my pride and ambition, I had missed the point entirely. It wasn’t about making things bigger and better. It wasn’t about creating a sustainable revenue model, or establishing a fancy brand, or extending deeper into the community. And it most certainly wasn’t about us.

The Writ now has over 5,500 members. People post new writing every day, and most pieces receive constructive feedback from readers. Over the last four years, several people have stepped up to take the leadership reigns and in doing so sparked new life into the community. But that role is too taxing to sustain long-term as a volunteer without a programming staff, and its presence is usually short-lived.

Does that matter? Not as much as we thought it would. The community members don’t really care if they have a leader or not. All they care about is being able to show up, share their stuff, and connect.

That’s it.

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4 Responses to “No, really, it’s REALLY about the People. I have proof.”

  1. Emma McCreary Says:

    Wow, it seems like you tapped into a need for a certain kind of community, and even if it’s not perfect, it was enough that the community happened in that space and now it is self-sustaining. That’s pretty cool. It goes to show that thing about getting out of your own way.

    It makes me think of this other thing about branding, which is that if the project is really about community, then the brand will grow and evolve in the community. More people join b/c people in the community invite them (I’m guessing). So they are spreading the brand and creating it as they go. It’s almost like you gave birth to the brand but then the community raised it and kept it alive and now it is strong enough to live on its own. Now what I wonder is if it will grow and evolve enough so that need for programming gets met out of the community self-organizing to meet it. Wouldn’t that be interesting? And how could you facilitate that community “solving” their own “problems” (in a manner of speaking). Now that would be a truly self-supporting organism of a project.

    Hmm hope that was intelligible.

  2. cheekyboots · personal branding bonanza Says:

    […] also enamored of Sarah Dopp’s post on her writing community that wouldn’t die and it has been ping-ponging in my brain, whispering “I want to do that!” I want to […]

  3. Dopp Juice » Blog Archive » Taking (back) On The Writ Says:

    […] wrote a few weeks ago about The Writ — my baby project that turned into a teenager and ran away from home.  […]

  4. G_i_N Says:

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