Guest Post: A Pattern Language for Online (and Offline) Communities

Today I’m happy to bring you another great guest post. This time we have Chris Carfi from weighing in.
Thanks, Chris!

What are Design Patterns? What is a Pattern Language?

According to Wikipedia, a Pattern Language can be described as follows:

“A pattern language is a structured method of describing good design practices within a field of expertise. It is characterized by:

  1. Noticing and naming the common problems in a field of interest,
  2. Describing the key characteristics of effective solutions for meeting some stated goal,
  3. Helping the designer move from problem to problem in a logical way, and
  4. Allowing for many different paths through the design process.”

More on Pattern Languages here

Why might design patterns be useful in thinking about online (and offline) communities?

There are many different technical and social aspects to community development. As such, it’s about time to broadly start to document and share useful patterns (and anti-patterns!) that are found in communities.

What patterns are relevant in determining which features an online community should contain?

A great presentation on design patterns in communities can be found in the presentation attached below. NOTE: This presentation focuses primarily on the technical patterns (ie. “features”) that can be used in creating online communities. It does NOT address the more important issue of the interpersonal and social patterns that emerge.


The presentation above contains nearly two dozen patterns such as “Quick Registration” and “Users Gallery” and many others, which outline the common technical features that an online community may contain. See more patterns here.

What are the interpersonal patterns that appear in online communities?

Similarly, there are a large number of interpersonal patterns that appear as well, that fall into categories around expertise and processes/behaviors that are often seen in communities. For example, expertise patterns include the roles that are described in Forrester’s Social Technographics ladder, while behaviors can include common community actions that emerge such as welcoming newcomers to the group, or not encouraging commenters who attempt to cause disruption in conversation threads (i.e. “trolls”).

So, what patterns do you see out there? Here’s a resource where we can all contribute our thoughts and findings.


For information about my Community Consulting, Training and Speaker services, or to find out more about Dinner5, my unique community for community builders, contact me today.

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