Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hosting a Party on the web

There's been a lot of talk as of late about social networking software. To my mind, there's been too much attention given to 'software' and scant attention given to the 'social'.

So next time someone you know suggests that the website in question could benefit from a wiki, comments, or a discussion area, make sure you ask them who is going to host the party.

In this interview with .net magazine, Flickr founder Caterina Fake likens building an online community to throwing a party:

According to Caterina: "The most difficult part is not the technology but actually getting the people to behave well." When first starting the community the Flickr team were spending nearly 24 hours online greeting each individual user, introducing them to each other and cultivating the community. "After a certain point you can let go and the community will start to maintain itself, explains Caterina. "People will greet each other and introduce their own practices into the social software. It's always underestimated, but early on you need someone in there everyday who is kind of like the host of the party, who introduces everybody and takes their coat.

I recall those early days of Flickr...Stewart and Caterina were everywhere, commenting on everything. A core group of people followed their example and began to do the same, including Heather Champ, who now manages Flickr's community in an official capacity. Matt did a similar thing with MetaFilter too...he spent a lot of time interacting with people on there, taking their coats, and before long others were pitching in. [kottke]

With all the social software options out there, at least failure is cheaper now.

Back in my day (*ahem*) virtual communities were all the rage. In fact, a corporation that I was working for decided to create its own virtual community for a certain segment of a certain industry because one of the company's VPs had read this book. And after thousands (tens? hundreds?) were spent in developing the site, it was ready to launch.

I was skeptical of the whole enterprise and so I was surprised that after the first day, users were posting questions in the (empty) discussion boards. But no one in the corporation bothered to respond until later in the week. You see, while the VP didn't spare any expense in getting a great outside development team to create the site, he essentially tacked on the content responsibilities to existing employees with already stressed and busy work lives and furthermore, gave them no incentive to participate in *his* project. The site was stillborn.

Like most things, it needed love and attention to survive. And a party atmosphere.

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