In this paper, we introduce The Commons, which is a novel methodology and toolkit to aid in the design and study of online societies. We first discuss the foundations which led to its inception, and explain the design decisions made along the way to its completion. Next, we describe the system itself. We then describe and analyze the results of a user study, which shows that this methodology is valid, and that the toolkit produces results comparable to the existing social science literature. In this study we examine a particular form of online communication – synchronous text chat – and report on its effects in increasing trust and cooperation in online interactions. It is a common intuition that communication leads to more cooperative online relationships but intuition is not proof, nor does intuition provide a precise mapping of the effects and dynamics of various forms of communication on cooperation. Next, we will examine the usefulness of The Commons in the design of successful electronic societies by exploring its advantages over those methods most commonly used today. Finally, we discuss the importance of this platform for continued experimental research in both the social science and computer-human interaction research communities.