Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Danah Boyd: It Ain't Easy

So, David Callisch (Ruckus) and I will soon be behind the mics at Heather Gold's SxSW panel on "Open Source Management." In prepping for this, I remembered that there are basically three things that have happened to marketing, and online communication has been the catalyst: (1) marketing is getting more transparent, (2) it is becoming more collaborative, and (3) most interesting of all -- from my perspective -- it is becoming more ad hoc. Thus all the interest in DIY community tools which theoretically might help companies to more easily and more cost-effectively enlist the masses, tap the wisdom of crowds, and attempt big things in marketing that years ago would have required a massive budget. The idea is really appealling to small companies, of course, who will never have such a budget. But how easy is it to this? What's actually involved in getting a community up and running, and sustainable over time?

Check out Danah Boyd's recent article on the challenges of building heterogeneous communities. If you are thinking that your company can become the next Craig's List, Flickr or MySpace, you'll need to first understand the skills, stamina and creativity that are required of a good community manager.

These three sites have many attributes in common. They all grew organically. They each have public personalities that early adopters feel connected to. The early adopters really felt as though they were participating in and creating an intimate community, even as the community grew to millions. Users are passionate. Designers are passionate. They feel a responsibility to it and are deeply invested in making users happy. Character was not boiled out of the site; the text on the system is natural and goofy, reflecting the personality quirks of the developers rather than the formal speech of a corporation. Each site has a unique culture that was born early on and evolved through years of use and growth. The culture evolves with the designers and users working in tandem.

Customer service is not a segregated group who simply answers questions of a finalized product. They are completely integrated into the design system and the senior people are the most deeply embedded in user culture. There is a strong commitment to the needs and desires of the users.

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