Book Review: The Art of Community

This review has been in my drafts folder for 9 months, because I didn’t feel I was doing the book justice. It seems like I never will, so here it is – as it was written then, but hopefully still useful and relevant to someone

I bought this book last year when I was still working at Ibuildings, and my role changed a lot to include events and community representation. Before that I was doing entirely PHP development and it was around this time that I noticed myself saying “has everyone forgotten I’m actually a developer?” a lot! So I quickly decided that I needed a copy of The Art of Community, a book by Jono Bacon published by O’Reilly. Actually, I should thank O’Reilly at this point for publishing the book and even more so for sending Josette and her book stand to conferences – I was able to buy the book and it came with a pep talk :)

Anyway on to the book itself! The book is a pleasing weight and is full of stories of Jono’s personal experiences and experiences he has collected from other people. It covers all sorts of aspects of running community organisations, right from small user groups that meet in someone’s front room to the kind of community management done by big software vendors to support and enthuse their users. I certainly took a lot away from the book and on multiple different aspects, for my day job but also for the various community groups and events that I choose to be involved with on my own time. And I certainly won’t be lending it to anyone else, since I’ll be keeping it close by for reference for a long time to come! (In fact I had to buy another copy for someone who asked me if he could borrow it!)

There were a few specific aspects I was hoping that Jono would cover, and indeed he did but not from the angle I needed! I haven’t really been a leader very long, and particularly when it comes to the topics of conflict and burnout, I felt like I needed some help. The Art of Community has some great stories and advice for both topics but it does not address what to do if you are either a conflicting party or the person with the burnout. Since I’m guessing leaders can easily fall into both categories I hoped for more on this area and I am on the lookout for stories relating to both.

Having said that, it’s a comprehensive book written in an eloquent, approachable style. It covered topics I didn’t even know I needed to know, and also gave me some great ideas around process, running events, and communicating both within an organisation and outwardly. For user group organisers, community managers, events organisers and even anyone who wants to contribute effectively to a community anywhere, I would recommend this book. Oh and Jono is a wholy likeable Midlander, and he puts across some quite contentious topics very eloquently – which just makes it better!

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