A good online community will hurt you

Warning: This is a wandering piece / draft of something I might develop later.

BuzzFeed’s feature story about Google Reader’s “lost social network” offers an interesting look at the small communities that take root in odd spaces.

Google Reader 1.0 was never meant to be a social network. Hell, it was barely a social tool. But a community formed amidst the simple comment and sharing mechanisms that Reader provided.

The story reminded me that “social” isn’t about tools or technology. It’s about people gathering where they want to gather (this is also why publishers need to go where people gather … but that’s a rant for another time).

Unfortunately, that small Reader community wasn’t big enough or vocal enough to warrant continued support from Google — not with Facebook gaining more power by the minute. So, when the Google+ makeover ripped through Reader, the old community evaporated. And a lot of people in that community were sad because finding a place where you want to be is hard.

I went through a community disruption of my own a long time ago. I ran an X-Files forum on T@ponline / OnTap back in the late ’90s (don’t laugh, the “X-Files” was awesome). It attracted a small-but-committed group of people, most of whom came for the “X-Files” but stayed for the conversation. I loved it.

For a few years everything was great, but the parent company was bought and the new owner decided to change things. My forum — as engaging as it was — wasn’t deemed a priority. Which was completely fair because it wasn’t a priority. It wasn’t a profit center. It wasn’t integral to the future of the business. It was simply a fun and largely trivial outpost with great discussions.

I say that now. Back then I thought changing anything about the forum or the site was the height of idiocy. How dare they disrupt this beautiful thing! Clearly, they know nothing about the web! (I used to think that a lot.) Continue reading “A good online community will hurt you”

Social media doesn’t make money directly, but it still has enormous value

Perhaps it’s a function of the intricate tracking the Web provides, but I’m still amazed at media’s inability to grasp the secondary (and often, tertiary) value of community efforts. So let’s make this as clear as clear can be: Twitter,…

Perhaps it’s a function of the intricate tracking the Web provides, but I’m still amazed at media’s inability to grasp the secondary (and often, tertiary) value of community efforts.

So let’s make this as clear as clear can be: Twitter, Facebook, forums and other social media functions rarely make money directly. Their value comes from the attention they gather and the opportunities that attention creates. If you have a mass of people who have willingly opted-in to your messaging, you damn well better put useful, for-pay products in front of them. Otherwise, all you’ve got is a social club.

This recent piece from Forbes does a nice job tearing down the direct-revenue mindset.