Clay Shirky and David Weinberger have been talking about rules for social software.
I've been exploring online chat again recently, via iChat and Joi's IRC channel
Points Clay and David made both come up - the room occasionally falls into Clay's three default topics, and there has been a bit of kerfuffle about rules, deflected to a wiki.
More interesting was the emergence of the room's personality as David describes. This was shaped early on by Jeannie, who joined from AIM, and became an unofficial hostess, damping down the geekiness a bit and making it feel like a place.
Victor brought in a bot in Python called 'Jibot', to join Aaron's 'datum' both of which look up information over the net. As Victor's first language is Spanish, he leaned heavily on datum's dictionary and acronym lookups.
Jibot being Open Source, various of us modified it to say silly things to each other, but as the frustration with WordNet's dictionary grew, Victor added a way to define and query words in it.
Suddenly, Jeannie started using this to tease and keep track of people, by defining them in the dictionary. I added multiple definitions and the all important 'forget' command, and the bot became a community gossip repository.
Because all the bot commands were issued in public, and people can edit entries, the bot got a wiki-like convergence going, storing persistent info about people.
Last night I added the 'herald' function - now, when people join the room the bot announces them using what has been said about them, or uses a random canned phrase if it doesn't know anything about them yet.
I think this follows both Clays rules for community forming -persistent handles, rewards for core users etc and David's encouragement of informal serendipity.
Seems to work well so far; regulars are introduced, new people want to be, and only a bit of complaining about the bot talking too much