Who are the people in your neighborhood?

I’m in Wellington, New Zealand to give a keynote at GOVIS 2009. I’m really looking forward to it, as I think I’ll hit some notes that will resonate with the audience. Of course, one of the best parts of coming to conferences is the opportunity to socialise with interesting people and meet a few of the folks you only know online.

My friend Jason Ryan suggested we go along to the Webstock 3rd Birthday Party. Who was I to say no? Opportunity as discussed, right?

Mike from Webstock flicked me an email after I registered and asked if I could do one of the 5-minute lightning talks on the night. Perhaps foolishly, I agreed.

I decided to talk about communities, and the types of people in them. I struggled with this for a few days and then, on the flight over, it came to me… Sesame Street!

“WTF?” I hear you say. Well, have a look below. A completely unscientific, highly incomplete look at some of the personality types you find in communities, online  and off. It wouldn’t be hard to add many more.

It’s designed to do nothing more than give you a slightly different take on a subject that’s been discussed many time, and hopefully make you smile as you read.

Pretty much everything I know about community I learned from watching Sesame Street as a kid. Here’s why.

Sesame Street has something for everyone. And everyone has a place.

So, too, on our communities – online and off – there are a number of stereotypes that get filled. All of them add some value. All of them have a role.

First, we have our community leaders – Luis, Maria, Susan, Gordon and Bob. They guide and lead the old and new members of the community through the conversations they have and the activities they do. They’ve usually been there for a while. They know how things work. They’re the person you turn to when you’re having a problem and need some advice. They teach us the rules and show us the way.

Then, we have our regulars. They come in a bunch of flavors.

The helpful, but occasionally misguided Big Bird. He seems to love everyone and everything about his community. He doesn’t always get it all right, but he means incredibly well. Don’t disrespect him. You make him sad, and he can get depressed. If you treat him well, he’ll be your friend forever and he’ll make your experience in the community a rewarding one.

The overly involved types like Cookie Monster. They use CAPS LOCK A LOT. And they occasionally go off on rants. They always come back though. And nobody really dislikes them, even if they’re a touch strange.

The long-term, but still a little out there Grover. They’re in every community. They’re the enthusiasts. They do tend to ramble sometimes, or get wrapped up in off-topic subjects. But they’re harmless. And they have a good heart.

There’s the welcoming, but kind of freaky Count. He’s a one-topic guy. But his knowledge is deep. He’s the guy you turn to when you need specialist information.

And we have Bert and Ernie. They always appear at the same time. They obviously have deep affection for each other, but they nitpick like an old married couple. Avoid their arguments. Join in with them when they’re helpful. They add massive value.

We have the community curmudgeon, Oscar the Grouch. Voted most likely to use the phrase, “get off my lawn”, he’ll give the newbies a hard time unless someone’s around to watch their back. Deep down, though, Oscar sometimes has a heart of gold. You just need to find it.

Last, but not least, we have our newbies. People like Elmo. Naive, open minded, not sure how things work. We need the Luis’ of the world and his friends to show the way to our Elmo-like friends. Without guidance and a welcoming hand, our newbies end up confused, lost and disillusioned. You don’t want that, because the newbies, guided well, introduce new ideas and fresh personality to our communities.

So, who are the people in your neighborhood?

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