Two of my favorite things in my life as a freelance software developer are BNI and Stack Overflow. They are both quite different things, yet some of the reasons I like them both are actually somewhat related.
BNI is the largest organization of its kind in the world. It's an organization that helps members use word-of-mouth to grow their business. It does this by being nothing but a referral-centered organization. Members meet, and do business by referral. They build relationships, and develop friendships, as a result of course. But BNI does not try to be a social organization. It focuses members' time and effort on helping each other grow their businesses.
Stack Overflow is a question and answer site. There are hundreds of these out there. Thousands. Millions, probably. You'll see most of them referred to as "Q&A Forums". Stack Overflow is not a Q&A Forum. It is not a place where people can go and randomly ask for opinions, or try to get someone to help them with a project they have no idea how to complete. It is, instead, a structured site with definite, clear rules about how to ask questions, and what is expected of you before you ask them.
So, what do I like that are similarities between these two, quite different things?
They Don't Accept Just Anything/Anyone
BNI and SO don't just let any person/question waltz in and take up time and space. There are quality standards. In BNI, prospective members apply for membership, and a small committee reviews their application and considers many factors before approving someone. On SO, questions that don't show enough effort, or where someone just wants the community to "do their work for them" usually end up voted down, closed, and deleted by the community. Spam, malicious posts, and the like are dealt with quickly, as well.
These practices help assure that the communities are dealing with the highest quality, only. There is a lot less wasting of one's time as compared to the alternatives.
Contributions are Measured
BNI measures many aspects of a member's contributions to their chapter; you can see how many referrals they have brought, how much 'value' they have brought in business to their fellow members, and how they are participating in the key aspects of membership, such as having one-to-one meetings with the other members. This isn't so we can see who is the absolute best, but so we can see who is participating and how.
Stack Overflow also measures many aspects of a member's contributions, via their reputation score and their history of questions/answers. When someone answers a question, you can see their overall score and the score of that answer itself. This can help you gauge the value of their answer. Likewise, people who post questions have their stats shown, and you can use that information to help guide your decisions regarding how much and what kind of effort to spend answering their question.
Problems are Dealt With
BNI and SO both realize that when you put any two people together in the same community, things are bound to happen that are not positive and supportive. Both organizations have people and procedures in place to deal with these quickly and fairly, for the benefit of the community as a whole.
BNI has a set of policies and procedures, as well as a simple and clear code of ethics. Each chapter has a small committee of members who are given clear procedures to follow in case of any trouble between members. In addition, an experienced team of Director Consultants and Directors are always available to help guide chapters through any issues for which the answer does not appear to be so clear. The goal is always to help members of the chapter become more referrable. Unfortunately, sometimes that goal requires removing someone from the chapter. The policies and procedures are meant to avoid that if possible, but ultimately there are clear guidelines for when and how this should be done.
Stack Overflow likewise has policies and procedures in place for dealing with content (questions or answers) and posters of content which do not follow the spirit and letter of the purpose of Stack Overflow. There are people with the ability to vote to 'close' and 'delete' questions or answers which are inappropriate. While this obviously includes spam, hate speech, and the like; it also includes questions which aren't really a question at all, or questions which really amount to asking for everyone's "opinion" about something (what we often call "poll questions"). These types of content are common on Q&A Forums, but they are not conducive to what SO wants to be.
Missions are Clear
Both BNI and Stack Overflow have clear missions; they are not trying to be "everything to everyone". You will find people in both who would like them to take on other things, but they resist doing so. Both organizations recognize that they do what they each do best because they keep a focused eye only on what they do best.
This is why there isn't a time during a BNI meeting for members to announce their charity work; and why Stack Overflow does not have the features of a social network. Yet those things are constant requests of members of each of those communities, when those members don't yet precisely understand what it is that makes the group they are in so effective.
It's not that BNI doesn't want people involved in charities or that Stack Overflow hates social networking sites. In fact, BNI encourages its members to be very involved in service organizations and charities, and Stack Overflow employees, moderators and high-profile members are all very active on social network sites. Those things have their place.
Neither One Wastes My Time
Because of much of the above, neither one of these things are a waste of time. I know I can get into each of them, and get productive helping the fellow members of my community do what we are there for, whether that is referring each other more business in BNI, or helping programmers solve programming problems on Stack Overflow.
I am a Director Consultant for the West Virginia region of BNI, and have been a member of BNI since 2007. I credit BNI with enabling me to do the work I do where I live. I am proud to support the Elite Chapter in Parkersburg, WV and the Focus Chapter in Marietta, OH
I am a 10k+ rep member of Stack Overflow, and regularly in the top 1% in reputation for any time period. I am also active on SO.Meta, and have at this time run in one Community Moderator election on SO. My goal is to serve at least one year as a Community Moderator, should I be elected.
I support both of these organizations because I have gained so much from them, and seen so many others do the same. I encourage anyone interested to learn more about each of them! Feel free to contact me on Facebook or Twitter if you would like to do so directly.