Hi there! This Sarah Dopp’s old blog, with content from 2005 to 2013.

If you’re looking for content from 2020 and later, please visit my newer blog here:


Heads up, this content is 14 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

I think I’m ready to consider my next large contract, but only if it’s exactly right.  And I mean that: I’m perfectly happy right now hanging out in Small Contract Land, and I won’t let anything big into my life unless it’s absolutely the right match for both of us.  But maybe that perfect match is out there somewhere, just waiting for me to wink in the right direction. Let’s find out…*

Passionate Multi-Talented Consultant Seeks Online Community that has Lost its Way

Me? I’m a smart, tech-savvy online community organizer who gets really excited about making good stuff happen in the world.

You? You’re the extended online community of a company that appreciates you and wants you to be happy, but that doesn’t quite know how to take good care of you yet. You have a lot to offer and you can tell this organization wants you to shine, but for some reason, somehow, the pieces just aren’t lining up.

At your core, you’re a real catch (and you know it, too). You enjoy lively, informed discussions and you sincerely care about helping people. (In fact, you often have so many ideas about how the world could be better that you can hardly contain yourself! It’s okay, I understand that.) You’re creative and multi-faceted with lots of hobbies and interests, and you bring what seems like lifetimes of experience to the table. Anyone would consider themselves lucky to have you, but it’s disappointingly rare for you to be with someone who grasps exactly how precious and invaluable you really are.

If you let me in, I will be that someone. I will listen to you, find out what you need, and do whatever I can to provide for you.  I will ease your internal conflicts and nurture the parts of you that want to make the world a better place.  I will help bridge that gap between your needs and your organization’s needs, and I will empower you to make a meaningful difference in the way they approach their work.  Under my care, you will grow stronger and healthier, making it possible for you to also grow bigger.

But I need to tell you up front: I’m not interested in a traditional relationship. If you’re looking for the perfect partner who will meet all of your needs for the rest of your life, you’ll have to keep looking — that’s not me.  I have a rich and varied lifestyle with room only for hot, life-changing affairs, and I want us to live in the moment on this one. I’ll come in to your life, strengthen you, heal your wounds, and make the connections you’re craving. I’ll show your organization exactly how valuable you can be to them, and I’ll teach both of you to take care of each other directly, so you won’t need to rely on me. And then I’ll let you stand up on your own.

Are you okay with that?  I know the goodbye will be hard, but I think you’ll agree with me that it will have all been worth it.

A little more about me… I’ve founded and nurtured several online communities that grew in size and scope over time by natural interest. I’m fascinated with what drives people to contribute to things, and obsessed with helping them find ways to do it. I’m excited, engaging, optimistic, and interesting. And I also work my butt off.

I’ve been blogging and building websites for over ten years, and have expert skills in HTML and CSS, as well as strong social media savvy. I’m also a formally trained technical writer with a knack for making complex things easy to understand.  I’ve been making a living as a technology consultant for over five years, and I work well in lots of different environments, including from my home. I’m in San Francisco, but you can be based anywhere.

The arrangement I’m looking for would involve a contract (I’m not an employee) at respectable business rates.  My ideal commitment would be about 20 hours a week over a period of 6 – 12 months, but I want to make sure all your needs are being met, too.

If you know the matchmaker who can arrange this affair, please send this to them, and I will owe you a hundred hugs.

And if that matchmaker is you, I look forward to your reply. Please email me here:

info at sarahdopp dot com

…and we can further explore our compatibility.

With great appreciation,

* a hat tip to Havi for this format. (Have you read her stuff yet? She’s wonderful.)

Heads up, this content is 15 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

I tried to give a talk called “Aikido Moves for Online Community Management” at Social Media for Social Change in Oakland a few weeks ago, but it didn’t quite go as planned.  About fifteen minutes into me babbling tips and techniques to a room full of people who looked at me like I was speaking German, someone finally asked the question no one else would:

“What’s an online community?”

There were nods and exhales all around.

Woops. Ok. Let’s start over.

A community is a group of people who recognize that they have something in common.  An online community is what they get when they interact with each other on the Internet.

Unlike blogs which have a mostly-standardized format, online communities show up in lots of different structures.  These include:

  • Forums and message boards
  • Chat rooms
  • Email discussion groups
  • Blog posts
  • Blog comments
  • Wikis
  • Community areas (groups, fan pages) within a big social networking site
  • Community-specific social networking sites
  • Any number of custom-feature websites, widgets, applications that let people do stuff
  • Interactions happening anywhere on the Internet

Really, if you think online communities usually come in formulaic cookie-cutter websites, please go read that list again a few times. What we’re talking about here is how people want to interact — not how we think they should.

There are three other quirky things about online communities that I want to make absolutely clear:

1) The levels of commitment people have to them vary wildly. More often than we want to admit, it’s just a fleeting interest, and that’s okay. (Example: If I have a question about my HP printer and go digging through Internet forums for answers, I become part of the HP consumer support community for about an hour. And then I don’t care anymore.)

2) The levels of interaction people get into also vary wildly. See the 90-9-1 Principle: in any online community, about 90% of the people involved are just there to read (and please don’t demean this group as “lurkers” — think of how many websites you visit that you don’t say a word on!).  9% will respond to or improve the content that’s already there.  And 1% will generate new content from scratch.  Yes, this is an über-simplification and will vary by structure, but I can tell you from my own experience that it’s accurate enough.

3) The uniting factor for a community can be pretty much anything. Pick any combination of people, places, things, identities, experiences, and ideas. If people have it in common, there’s a potential community there. This isn’t to say that every topic is worth putting energy into, but please: if you have a limiting idea in your head about what people actually care about, now’s a good time to ditch it.

Now this leads us to the next question: “When does an online community need a manager?”

Not always. But sometimes.

If you or your organization created the space that the community is using to interact, and if it’s important to you that the community maintains a certain level of focus or respect, then you probably need a manager.

A manager is someone who smooths out the edges, advocates for what’s most important, encourages participation, and helps people get what they need.  They are not dictators. If a manager’s unchecked goal and approach is to control a community, the community will find a way to mutiny.

Thus, I want to offer you a set of techniques I’ve picked up in my experience managing the communities at The Writ (an online writing workshop that had 2,000+ members; no longer open) and Genderfork (a volunteer-run community expression blog with 10,000+ readers).  I call them Aikido Moves for Online Community Management.  They’re ways to keep the peace and stay on track without being a jerk.

And now that you’ve read this intro material, I’ll post them soon.