There are many examples of online communities, as well as many examples of ways to engage, promote and respect those communities. At USV we think about this a fair amount.
But sometimes online communities can surprise you in unexpected ways. Sometimes in being the shepherd of a group of people and businesses you can learn about yourself too. Sometimes the way you interact with those communities takes different shapes than you would otherwise expect.
Science Exchange is a transactional marketplace for scientific experiments; USV is an investor. The participants in this marketplace are on the one hand scientists with specific experimental research needs and on the other hand organizations with capabilities to do pieces of those experiments. Recently, the company moved down the street in Palo Alto to a new office, one that is open and bright. With large, blank walls. Looking at the blank walls was not fun, they needed to fill them with something. Being an early stage company, buying art wasn't really an option. So, they asked their community, the providers, for help.
Which those providers did. Various members sent in pictures of the work they do. Microscopic images of the experiments they run. The main office wall is above (Tess did a great job here). Below is some more. On the left is "Histopathology" (the providers named the "works" themselves) - a microscopic picture of gut wall cells. The provider that sent it in is the Histopathology and Tissue Shared Resource which provides histology services (you can see their prices and ratings on the linked page).
The art in the right of the additional picture below is an image of mouse vasculature from the Mouse Biology Program - again, you can see their services on the linked pages.
When you walk into Science Exchange the effect is striking. Last week I was there and I was buzzing. Gorgeous images line the walls. It is pleasing and interesting to the eye. The office is filled with artwork. Artwork from and of their scientific community providers. Of their science and services. Just looking at the wall, it not only looks great but I imagine it also enhances the team's commitment to their mission, to what they are doing, and their focus on customer service.
There are many ways to increase the connections in your online community. Sometimes they are not what you think. Sometimes they involve another kind of hacking.