Any social network service is much more than its code, its content, and its communities. It is all of these within a dynamic framework of rights and roles, and of needs and opportunities. All of these opportunities will flourish best if they are built on a thoughtful system of best practices and clear rules.
Your social network platform represents the various groups that must come together to build, maintain, support, and use the service. These groups include teams of developers/administrators, some number of key sponsors/funders, member organizations, and member individuals. Each of these groups has interests that you want to fulfill.
These interests can be identified by the issues they engender: funding, community (leadership, reputation), privacy (policy creation), sharing (licensing), branding, technology (features and standards), and policing (boundary control for content and bad behavior). All of these issues (funding excepted) can be addressed over time through the right kind of governance system. This system is the garden where communities can grow.
Too often, software services (even currently successful ones such as Facebook and Wikipedia) paid too little attention to governance in their infancy. This failure has long-ranging consequences, some of which are now becoming evident in these early Web 2.0 experiments. Best practices suggest that governance needs to be considered up-front, at the same time as software design.
One of these best practices is to get the your members involved in devising (and then owning) the governance system. So the plan is to first create a starting point: defining membership within the network, and then facilitate the members to create the system.
The goal is to build a nimble system that rewards sponsors for their support, enables open-source software development, encourages organizations to add their members, and gives each member not simply a voice, but a say in how their network runs.
Photo Credit: CC license on Flickr by undersound