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Community – from start up, to borg; from an idea to embedded behavior

July 20, 2009

It’s so sad when your local neighborhood café becomes a massive international chain. The Barista that used to be the owner as well as waiter, the face of the café, who knew your name and exactly how you like your espresso, is now gone, sitting behind a desk somewhere or vacating on some sandy beach. The hand made muffins, in different shapes and sized, are now all mass manufactured looking all the same. The few people that knew about this hidden neighborhood gem, sharing a secret together, are now replaced by the world and his wife coming to buy in bulks. The personal touch is gone.

For a successful community and social/professional network, this is one of the key stages in their lifecycle. The moment it becomes widely used is also the point where it could also, potentially, become impersonal, commercial and… tasteless.

2 things come out of this discussion, one is an observation, the other – a question.

First, We all witnessed Google’s evolution from a cool startup to a “borg”. Are we now witnessing the same thing happening with Facebook? Is this the web evolution cycle? a startup or idea that has successfully passed the online behavior test and has ingrained into our behavior is simultaneously shifting from a start up – an idea – into a monopoly. Search was an experimental concept – it is now a must in every site. Social Networking was an experiment, it is now becoming a must in all sites.

Second, is the first (and main) factor of a successful community, its size?  “Quality and Quantity. How is your community value measured?” This topic has been occupying me very much lately.  I finally found a reason to write about it as Wired published a somewhat sad article covering Facebook’s growth and strategic positioning in its competition with Google. The past few weeks have seen many top publications scrutinizing Facebook’s “monstrous” growth. Is it a “monstrous” growth? Interestingly today a very relevant discussion has developed around the topic in Doug Cornelius’s Blog ComplianceBuilding: does a mass community make a successful one? do you need a community large in numbers to have a successful community? is it just about number? or is it about WHO is a member of the community that makes it successful?

Curious to hear your thoughts.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. dougcornelius permalink
    July 21, 2009 9:26 am

    Alin –

    You are correct that it is not about absolute numbers on the size of the community. (I will not comment on you employer’s current trumpeting of its absolute size.)

    It is the quality of the members AND the quality of their use of the platform that is most important.

    A community of 10 can be a huge success if those 10 people use it as a primary way to communicate. A community of 1000 can be a barren wasteland if people are not using the community to communicate.

    Once you start excluding people from a community or imposing barriers to entry, you are excluding potential participants and potential communications. You need to balance the reasons for the barriers when there are many alternatives.

    You also need to have the community platform be better than the alternatives. You are trying to change the way people communicate. The online community must have excellent technology, an easy interface, obvious things for them to do and great people to connect/communicate with.

  2. alin wagner-lahmy permalink
    July 21, 2009 11:41 pm

    Thanks Doug.

    I agree. Size, as well as participation, identity of members, focus of members, ease of use and offerings of platform – are all factors in achieving a successful communities. And I guess it’s a combination of all of these that varies depending on the community’s needs, that factor into the success.

    Specifically, the above post is not about Connected, or any other community, but more on a trend I see. I mention Facebook as I see its transition into a Borg, just like happened to Google a few years ago, which also symbolizes a social transformation: acceptance of behavior.

    A gazillion users community can be useful to a user as well as a 10 members community. Depends on the goals right? I am curious about our discussion over activity. Visible activity is naturally (thought of as) an indicator of success. I am wondering if passive participation, behind doors, or of listeners, can form a successful community? No clear visible contribution, but there is ‘behind the scene’ collaboration. I have never seen anything like it, and I have a feeling this is something that could form in some industries (such as legal, medical, etc).

  3. July 22, 2009 1:48 pm

    Alin,

    I’m glad we are finally taking this debate public 🙂

    When you write this blog, do you want a handful of people to read it, or would you prefer that thousands (and maybe more) will be influenced by it?

    While the answer may be ‘it depends on the subject’ it is clear that people do not blog to themselves. Most bloggers aim to reach a relatively wide audience and that is exactly what social media is for – help you find people with similar interests and communicate with them.

    In the case of Martindale-Hubbell Connected, we would like to reach anyone who is working in a legal profession or is passionate about the law. This is a fairly large group of people (>2 Million in the US alone.) Once you start getting bigger, the community starts to divide – IP attorneys will may have their own community within the larger network. This allows users to: 1) Find relevant partners for discussion (size is important) 2) Select the most relevant audience (quality, we can discuss definition of that, is important 3) Communicate with the select audience (technology is important; it is important in all stages but makes the most difference here.)

    You are clearly an early adopter and you may feel frustrated when the community becomes more populated (less ‘cool’? 🙂 ) Some of the early adopters may decide to move on to the next cool thing. Hopefully, they left a legacy behind that will allow the community to prosper in their absence.

    Ohad

  4. July 26, 2009 2:34 pm

    Alin,

    This http://bit.ly/Bp16i nicely relates to your opening paragraph. It has nothing to do with social network, but does relate to how small businesses/communities think about large coroprations. I’m also a huge coffee (real coffee, not the stained water that sell in most places) so I’m curious to see how it develops.

    Ohad

  5. alin wagner-lahmy permalink*
    July 26, 2009 6:11 pm

    Ohad,

    Was just about to hit ‘send’ on my reply to your first comment, when you posted your second comment – so here is my revised comment 🙂 based on the second comment. First – thanks for the reply, we have been having this discussion offline for such a long time, I am very happy to see it getting a virtual life.

    To your question about visibility: Personally, of course I want high visibility, of course I am interested in traffic – *but it is not my top goal* that shapes my discussion and choice of topics, otherwise I would have taken other strategies with frequency and content that I choose to share here. You are raising an interesting point about why we blog. Tim Ferriss, in his WordPress SF session said he is blogging is “to love, be loved and never stop learning which may sound like a lot of frufru… but which translates into important decisions: I use my blog to access people and resources”. (http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/06/29/how-to-build-a-high-traffic-blog-without-killing-yourself/)

    As an interpretation of that – I blog becasue that’s who I am, I have to blog. I have to write. I have to share. It’s a need. It’s a part of me. That is the driver, the trigger. Taking it to another level, participating in social online activity with others is a fun activity for me. I do it because I mentally enjoy it, and I have seen it time and time again – when you do something you enjoy – others will join. Passion, interest and excitement need to be authentic, and when that happens, popularity will automatically happen, as a side effect (for those who seek it).

    I guess what I am saying, is that when you plan and measure a successful community, size – be it an important aspect in the overall picture – is not the causing or determining element.

    And as you say it – we aim to reach people with similar interests, I think where we differ in perception is the quality of discussion as an outcome of quantity of users.

    And indeed once the community gets into the expansive stage in its lifecycle, the trick is to keep the discussion and space wide, yet ‘personal’, becasue as your timely link to the Coffee article states – people need the right balance in a community, not too little, but not too much.

Trackbacks

  1. Doug Cornelius on Social Media and Compliance « Fredzimny’s CCCCC Blog
  2. Full Circle Associates » URLs I did not have time to write about

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