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  Managing Expert Communities?
How can I find out about platforms for the management of expert communities like

Expert communities like (formerly the Mining Company) utilize in the main a portal publishing or content management system administered by an individual or individuals to provide editorial focus, often on a themed basis. There are two key factors, the platform and the human element.

As far as platforms go, first you need to identify whether you are able or willing to install and host the portal/content system on your own server. If so, then you will need to bear in mind the programming environments available to you (for example, Perl, ASP or PHP), your budget and technical expertise. If you are not able or willing, then you will need to look for an ASP or Application Service Provider who do so for you.

Use your favoured search engine to look for “portal publishing” or “portal management”. There are many different offerings available, some available in standalone packages you can install or in ASP format for you to “hire”. Most allow you to choose from a number of components, ranging from message boards to link managers, article publishing tools to online calendars, polls to chat rooms.

Here are some brief tips on your search:

Do make a list of the components you wish to be present in your community and prioritize them. What is your emphasis and what tools will provide the means for that?

Do spend some time thinking about the way in which you will need to administer the community, based on the components you need, and also the practicalities of administering it. What is practical?

Do consider the kinds of uses and users you will need to accommodate within it.

Don’t worry about compromising - you may find that you have to make some compromises in order to be able to match a tool to your needs and capacities.

Do use demo software in order to feel comfortable with the features and facilities that are provided and ensure that you have room to expand or extend them if you believe that you will need to.

Do spend some time thinking about how easy the tools are going to be to deploy and run, especially if you are going to be asking others to manage the community.

Don’t forget your END USERS!

Don’t commit until you are sure.

Once you have settled on a set of tools and the platform to deliver them with, then the fun really starts!

The human element is crucial of course. If you have wisely chosen individuals with energy and enthusiasm and the tools that allow them the means to express creatively and efficiently then you are well on your way to providing a complete expert community.

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
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