Trip Report: Online Community Business Forum

It’s been an intense couple of days, meeting with those who run online communities in business environments (read: for-profits, not non-profits).  In other words, people there either ran an online community, like a support forum (Apple’s support forums, Dell’s online communities) or discussion board (AOL, etc.), or sold tools and applications to host such online communities.

Technorati tags: ocbf2007

And some pictures of Sonoma (and for those in Seattle – pictures of the sun).  Sadly, i was more in awe of the sun and weather, than i was of the vineyards.

Top Takeaways

  • Currently, there is no global definition for community.  It’s one of those, "you know it when you see it" (thanks to Sean McDonald from Dell for the quote.)  Maybe in time we’ll have a clear definition, like we do today for blogging.
  • The majority agreed that a crisis is needed to build a community.  I’ll go a step further and say that there needs to be a mutual call-to-action for the community to 1. find one another and 2. do something.  Crisis is a great call-to-action.
  • A lot of the online community research mapped very closely to the OSS community research I’ve seen.  This is very interesting from a social engineering (if that’s the right term) perspective.  How we interact online may be constant across any community.  Now if only we can define what an online community is and isn’t…
  • Mike McCamon from had the quote of the conference.  I’m horribly paraphrasing, but it was along the lines of "Selling Online Communities to executives today is like trying to sell telephones to executives when they were first invented, when the reaction back in the day was, ‘who would use a phone?’"  That’s so true.

Conference Highlights

  • I unintentionally started the "Women’s Bathroom Community."  – I just started talking to one woman in the bathroom, which caused another 3 to join the conversation, thus spending 20 minutes in the bathroom talking about online communities.  We all went to dinner later.  Oh, I’m bracing myself for the comments to this one.
  • Mac vs PC:  Mark Williams (Apple) and Sean O’Driscoll (MSFT) did a joint session on engaging in your community.  And of course, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a little commercial spoof.  it was an excellent discussion.
  • I really liked the 5 minute open microphone on whatever topic you want. Of course, I got up there and did my 5 minute OSS sales pitch. Never a dull moment.
  • Every conference needs a “wine-tasting break” prior to the “wine-tasting event” prior to the “dinner at the winery.”


  • Having my leg x-rayed the night before flying out.  Nothing broken, but hurts nonetheless.  ouch.  shin splints.  I blame my personal trainer for not listening to my "no lower body workout today, because i did something crazy over the weekend."  And, he blames me for climbing Mt. Si. twice over the weekend.  But he’s still fired.  =)
  • Being too far away to hit josh over the head for being hit by a car and not going straight to the ER.
  • What does "riff" mean?  Does it mean to add to the conversation?  Or to go off on a tangent?  I couldn’t quite pick up on the full context…  For example, "Let me riff on what you are saying…" No one seemed to take offense, so i gathered it didn’t mean "let me rip it apart."

Adventures in Sonoma

I called Gretchen while i was down there with a desperate plea for help ordering wine.  I audited (yes, audited) wine appreciation in college, and i lived with a French family in their vineyard for a little while one summer back in high school, but that’s the extent of my wine knowledge, except for the fact that i can’t distinguish between wines.  They all taste great to me.

Sarah Onat from (she and i co-founded the bathroom community) and I did dinner both nights, and Friday night we did some sight-seeing and ate dessert at a local cafe on Hwy 12 (?).  Thanks Sarah with the ‘h’ for driving!!

Zoe Hollister from (our tireless event coordinator for the conference) and I spent Saturday as tourists.  When we hit 3 vineyards before noon sampling wine, we realized we had to slow down!  We drove around and to our (happy) surprise, discovered the Napa Premium Outlets and ended up doing some shopping.  =)  Thanks Zoe for driving!!  Hope work on Monday morning isn’t too rough (she took a red-eye back).

And lastly, i’ll sign off by telling my first adventure story of the trip.  It’s about 1-1.5 hours from SFO to Sonoma via car.  Since i was the only passenger, the shuttle driver and i started talking the usual age, rank, and serial number.  When he said he knew what Visual Studio was, i was immediately shocked, then i realized, "oh wait, I’m in the Bay Area" (SFO is the bay area, right?).  Apparently it was his last day on the job, moving full-time to his start-up 30proof.  They are speaking at O’Reilly Where 2.0 conference, so best of luck to them during their demo.

And now i’m going to get some sleep…  very long day getting home from sonoma and writing trip reports…

Comments (9)

  1. Mike Dunn says:

    "riffing" is basically what MST3K did – making fun of something or what someone says. In fact, Mike Nelson has continued the MST3K concept with a web site:

  2. Will Pearson says:

    Hey Sara,

    Glad you had a good trip.

    I came across a couple of panel discussion programs on a few months ago that you might be interested in.  One is titled ‘New communities for the new millennium?’ and the other is titled ‘ Will the Internet change humanity?’.  They are both part of the Closer To Truth series, which gets some intellectuals together to discuss various topics; I think Marvin Minsky is in one of the two that I mentioned.  You can find the two programs at:


  3. Will Pearson says:

    Hi Sara,

    Comment #2…

    I’d be interested to learn if the discussions and presentations were centered around the current, asynchronous, forms of online community, such as newsgroups, email lists, and web forums, or whether there was any mention of the newer, synchronous, forms of online community that involve collaboration in colocated virtual reality spaces, Second Life for example?  Working in the research field it will be interesting to see what industry make of the opportunities and benefits of synchronous collaboration offered by colocated VR.

    If Microsoft have a subscription to the ACM digital library it might be worth checking out the proceedings for past ACM CSCW conferences.


  4. Sarah says:

    Hi Sara (whose parents couldn’t afford to buy the "h"),

    Thanks for the shout-out.  Hope your leg is feeling better and good riddance to that trainer of yours.  Enjoyed your company and hope to see you soon sometime…Preferably not in a bathroom.


  5. The Online Community Business Forum was held May 3-4 in Sonoma, CA By all accounts the event was a huge success. Our invitation-based events are a mix of topical and highly-participatory sessions and networking opportunities. Some highlights fro

  6. jane smolensky says:

    Hi Sara,  I love not having the "H" on your name because it really makes you unique which you are.  Anyway you don’t buy consonants you buy vowels.  So that is why you doh’t have a H.  Love you

  7. saraford says:

    Hi Mom.

    Yeah, i called home to let them know i broke my leg hiking Mt. Si twice over the weekend. (yep, i apparently was walking around on a stress fracture the entire week – i went to the ER, i had x-rays *prior* to the trip, but they didn’t see anything, and it didn’t hurt that bad actually).  But thankfully the Physical Therapist today caught it (3rd medical person i had seen in a week).  Crutches are making me relive my accessibility days.

    Anyways, i have no idea how i went 11 years without telling my mom the joke about them being cheap and not buying me the ‘h’.  I used to be a popcorn vendor at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  One day, a guest ordered popcorn and said, "I see your parents were cheap too."  Before i could recover and ask, "WTF?" he said, "we didn’t buy the extra letter for our daughter sara either."  So whenever i spell my name, i always say, "no ‘h’, my parents were cheap."

    In Hebrew, there are no vowels (at least in formal text), so my name would be spelled SRH.  I guess that makes "sarah" the official spelling.  But just like a radio station, someone reading this will know more than me, so please correct or add to this.  =)

  8. Terabanitoss says:


    You are The Best!!!


  9. RehanM says:

    I Agree. you are the best.