Roundup: Building Online Communities

Throughout the history of the Internet there have been several attempts to launch an online community that would bring people together to discuss common and/or varied interests. Creating one that would be both successful and long-lasting is a challenge, one that only a few online communities have managed. Benjamin Mako Hill’s Building Successful Online Communities class at the University of Washington studied what makes these communities successful – or unsuccessful. The class chose Wikipedia as one of it’s examples of an online community. One assignment had students interact with the editing community by becoming active editors themselves. Students were allowed to edit on a topic of their choice, which led to a variety of articles, ranging from Chihuly glass decorated footbridges to Chinese orchestras and live streams of giant pandas. By immersing themselves in editing they not only collectively learned about online communities – they also ensured that their actions would improve the wealth of knowledge freely available on the Internet.

Beth’s Cafe is a “greasy spoon” diner in Seattle, Washington that initially opened its doors in 1954 as a nickel slot gambling parlor, but began functioning as a restaurant in order to draw in customers. While the slot machines may now be a thing of the past, the diner has remained open and was even featured in a 2009 episode of Man v. Food.

Also within the United States is the Miss Indian World competition, which takes place over a five day period at the annual Gathering of Nations and is considered to be the largest powwow in the world. While the name may cause some to assume that this is a beauty pageant, the winner of this competition is not judged by her beauty but by how much she knows about Native American culture and history. She receives points in four categories: Public Speaking and Personal Interviews, Traditional Talent Presentation, Dance Competition, and Essay.

No matter where you reside in the world, you can always view pandas via iPanda as long as you have an electronic device and an Internet connection. Launched by China Network Television and research and conservation groups, this camera allows viewers a glimpse into the lives of giant pandas 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Students worked on more than one China related article, as can be seen with the new article on the China National Center for the Performing Arts Orchestra. This orchestra was founded in March 2010 and has performed compositions crafted by musicians from all over the world.

Finally, one student chose to expand the article for the Bridge of Glass located in Tacoma, Washington. If you were to visit this bridge you would see three beautiful Chihuly glass installations, one of which is an 80-foot wall containing 109 pieces of Art-Deco style artworks. The Bridge of Glass connects downtown Tacoma to the Thea Foss Waterway, which has been considered one of the most polluted Superfund sites in the country due years of industrial activity. Around $103 million has been paid to clean up the waterway. The Bridge of Glass is intended to be one of many new additions meant to revitalize the area.

Wikipedia has a wealth of knowledge, however the site cannot grow without users contributing and correcting its information. Editing is a wonderful way to teach your students about technical writing, collaboration, and sourcing in a unique learning environment. If you are interested in using Wikipedia with your next class, please contact Wiki Education at to find out how you can gain access to tools, online trainings, and printed materials.

Image: File:Bridge of Glass (Tacoma, Washington).jpg, by Visitor7, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


One thought on “Roundup: Building Online Communities

  1. Some great ideas you shared with us, Shalor!

    Question: I have also started working with Wikipedia with my students; do you know of any online communities for students who edit Wikipedia? Editing Wikipedia itself could make for an interesting area of practice for an online community, so just wondering if anything like that exists that I can point my students to?

    Thanks again!

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