Reach is a measure of a member's sphere of influence and their degree of visibility and connectedness.

High-reach members maintain a wide network of active relationships and help move information throughout the community. Whereas love is based on what a member does and how often, reach is concerned with who the member does activities with. The most connected members have the highest reach.

How can reach help us build a strong community? If we need a big announcement amplified, high reach members can help get the word out quickly. If we're looking to get an introduction to someone, our high reach members are likely to yield the shortest path to that connection. If we're looking to pack the house for a big event, we can start by inviting the high reach members and expect that others will follow their lead.

As community builders, we should also think about ways of increasing reach for our members. This can look like direct introductions to other members, amplifying a member's content on Twitter and other channels, and inviting members to speak at events. Actions like these benefit the member while increasing their reach.

In the Orbit Model, reach takes into account a member's external following (we call this clout), as well as the number and strengths of their connections inside the community. The latter is what matters most within the community, and it's what the builder can impact the most.

The community is a network

As reach is based on member-to-member connectedness, we can study it by modeling the community as a network of people. To visualize the network, we can use a graph. Graphs are powerful devices for understanding interconnected, complex systems like social networks and human populations.

Graphs have two primary features: nodes and edges. In the Orbit Model, we represent members with nodes and draw edges when there is a connection between them.

Visualizing the community this way makes it easy to see who each member is connected to, and who their connections are connected to. With it, we can ask some interesting questions:

  • Who are the most-connected members? The least?
  • Who can introduce member A to member B?
  • What members tend to interact only with a small group?
  • What members interact across the whole community?
  • What parts of the community are tightly or loosely connected?

Pockets of gravity

This visualization also helps us find concentrations of densely-connected members called pockets of gravity. Pockets emerge when members share a common attribute, such as a topic of interest, geographic location, or presence on the same platform. Members within a pocket tend to have strong reach amongst reach other. Some members also have reach into other pockets, forming important bridges that connect disparate parts of the community. These members are highlighted in the graph below.

Community topologies

If we zoom out and look at the entirety of a community's network, patterns in the shape and structure will emerge, giving the community it's own unique topology. Understanding the topology gives us valuable insights into what type of community it is, how information travels, and where opportunities to increase reach live.

Four common topologies

In her book Working in Public, researcher Nadia Eghbal groups open source communities into different models based on the nature of their growth and participation:

High User GrowthLow User Growth
High Contributor
Low Contributor

Let's look at what each of these communities looks like in graph form.

Why topology matters

Think of a topology as a way to map out the community you want to build. Without a map, you won't know what member-to-member connections you should invest time trying to make. If your community needs to be a federation in order to reach its goals, you won't get there by treating it as a club or a stadium. Building a federation requires creating connections between separate pockets of gravity, and then connecting those pockets to unified center. Building a stadium requires that some members be connected to hundreds or thousands of others (if only by recognition).