As an active member of several online communities, revolving around a variety of issues, I found this article about Building Online Communities interesting. from Building Online Communities [Slashdot]
My first objection, though, is semantic--a "planned" online community is similar to a planned community in real life; anyone who has visited Reston, Virginia (a model "planned community") will understand what I mean--while it is clean and organized and neat, it lacks the character that make spontaneous, evolved communities so interesting. (Think Hayek.) That said, though, the planned route is useful for communities that are, well, planned--a listserve, or the WOPR boards, or Experts Exchange, or something like that. While they may be rooted in spontaneity, their usefulness to their members would be hampered without some top-down organization. You might lose some of the character, but the tradeoff is worth it.
The author also talks about shared history, in-jokes, and language...
A healthy community also develops a sense of history and in-jokes. The phrases "Thanks, applied" and "Rule one" mean something very specific to Perl 5 porters. Everything 2 afficionados understand the intrinsic humor of "Soy." Highly-ranked and respected Perl Monks regularly cite precedents when controversial topics reoccur.
These bits of culture tend to cross communities. It's online syncretism at its finest. Bring up "the September that never ended" at a LUG meeting, and chances are you'll find a longtime Usenetter. Community members identify each other elsewhere by these identity badges.
This is one of my favorite aspects of online communities that evolve beyond the ultra-organized and restricted threaded boards...the ability to reference "color wars" and have a wide range of people immediately understand your context.
One thing that isn't discussed in depth in the article, though, is the extent to which the underlying technology sets the tone for the community, aside from a brief warning about keeping the posting process simple. In my mind, the posting process is less relevant to the resulting community development than the reading process. I personally find threaded discussion boards incredibly irksome--too many places to have to search for parts of a conversation. That said, participants on threaded communities have more control over their content. Linear boards (essentially, one chronological thread) expose participants to more conversations because everything is in one place, but at a certain threshhold the white noise can be deafening.
One of things I like about the technology behind the Radio community is that the aggregator functions to to combine the best of both types of worlds--clearly, each blog and news source is its own thread, but I can pull them all together to simply see them in one place. Relying on my newsfeed for links to reading material certainly limits my exposure to new blogs, it is certainly better than having to visit each site myself daily, which I'm having to do with sites I've found that can't be syndicated. I tend to see new information on non-aggregated sites in a much less timely manner, and am sure I miss posts as well.
In any event, this post is coming close to matching the length of the article I referenced, so I'll sign off here.