Some online self-help communities seem to have been having a hard time of things lately.
Last summer, the long-running BrainTalk Communities went offline for nearly 3 months before limping back into existence once we posted about its offline time here and started a new, more reliable support community to replace BrainTalk (our community is called NeuroTalk and continues to grow and thrive, check it out!). BrainTalk’s old database of hundreds of thousands of posts (and all the knowledge contained therein) remains in limbo, with no update of whether it’ll ever return, and the forum software is 3 versions behind from the latest production version. We’ve been told this is either the 2nd or 3rd time this community has experienced serious database issues where significant data loss occurred.
This morning we discovered that Mental Earth Community (also known as MentalEarth), the self-help support community that took the place of the community I started while at Mental Health Net, is offline. No word back yet from the community’s leader, Warren Selekman, Ph.D., but we have extended an offer of assistance if they need any help getting back online.
One of the keys for online health and mental health communities is not only that some company or individual goes out and creates one, but that they are going to be there long-term. I can list dozens of online communities that no longer exist over the past decade because the start-up company went bust, or the individual responsible for running the community got interested in something else and let the community decay. An online community not only needs commitment from a dedicated team of moderators, but also a commitment from an administrator or company that is going to guarantee that the community is kept online, the data is regularly backed-up, and that they will make the “best effort” to keep the community online and available 24/7.
Online communities should also have emergency server procedures in place, so if the community does go offline for any reason, information is available to its members about the status of the recovery effort. Most recoveries should occur within 24 hours (I’ve never had one go longer in any community I’ve run for the past decade), and virtually all should be done within a week. If a recovery is going to take longer than a week, that needs to be communicated to community members in some manner, so they can make other arrangements if need be.
This entry was written in January 2007, and since it was written, the Mental Earth community has come back online.