Job of the Future?

July 26, 2007

Much of the talk about web 2.0 and social networking and blah blah shiny shiny seems to neglect the key component of a social site – the people (or maybe I’m reading the wrong news sources, in which case, I’d welcome recommendations).  After all, any social network’s real power lies in its members and the way they use it, not the number of cool apps and widgets available.

I’m not talking just about numbers, either, although the sheer number of users is one to measure a site’s worth.  I think we all know that it is equally important to pay attention to how often members log in and how much time they spend on the site, because how many people create profiles and abandon them after a short time because they weren’t getting enough out of it, or the site just ceased to hold their interests?  This even goes true for blogs – there are eleventy billion blogs on the web, but how many of them have been updated this week?  This month, even?

Yes, this is somehow related to the “Jobs of the Future: Online Community Organizer” concept I mentioned in my last post.  It goes to follow that in order to make a social site stand out and be successful, some kind of draw besides the latest and greatest technology is necessary.  After all, great tech will attract the bleeding edge techie geeks, but they’re a real fickle bunch. 

The real reason most people join any kind of social networking site is because they get something out of it, whether it’s being able to keep up with their friends’ lives, network with potential colleagues/employers, or just communicate with like-minded people.  There is also the subset that joins to promote something they are selling, but that’s getting dangerously close to spamming (and in some cases, it is spamming), and I’ve always advised friends and clients to participate as a human being first, and as a marketer second.  For the love of god, separate yourself from your brand for a minute and stop looking at members of a network just as potential cash cows. 

But I digress.  So how do networks differentiate themselves?  Why are some forums and sites ridiculously active while others languish in e-scurity?  (It’s my blog, I can make up words if I want to.)  Having some great leaders – whether they are early adopters who pull others in by making it cool, or community organizers who make everyone feel welcome, answer questions, and generally moderate the discussion (e.g. keep out the trolls and spammers). 

Yes, some moderation can be done digitally, like spam filtering.  But I think it’s probably necessary to have some human eyeballs involved, if only to remove blatant rule breakers – for instance, people who post porn and other obscene content on sites that want to be G-rated – yes, there is porn on the net, but if a site owner wants to keep it family-friendly or hell, just work-safe, that’s within their rights too.  (I’m not advocating censorship here, because even the First Amendment has exceptions (e.g. no slander or libel, no obscenities (read: porn) in an inappropriate context – that kind of thing). 

Having someone around to answer questions, make newbies feel welcome, and promote conversations, and keep everyone informed of important changes, news, etc. could be a differentiator between a network that dissolves into a slush pool of spam or one that thrives.  Perhaps they could even pull people in by becoming a sort of community evangelist.

I don’t want to delve too far into the whole freedom of speech as it applies to the web thing, but I do think that if the creators/owners of a networking site, forum, community (insert social media entity of your choice), want to create rules and regulations for the users of the site, they’re probably within their rights.  Also, the majority rules – if most of a site’s members don’t want to allow a certain topic or type of speech, chances are they’ll get their way or leave the community.

However, some communities end up being most self-policing, but that doesn’t totally eliminate the need .  Craigslist is probably one of the better-known examples – users can flag messages they feel are inappropriate, and a certain number of flags will get the item taken down.  However, people can still petition the actual humans behind the site if they feel they were flagged unfairly, and those humans are still necessary to create the regulations, organize the categories, and generally adjust to changes based on what users want, overall trends, and what-have-you.  There’s still something of a community organizer aspect to what they do, even if that is not their sole job. 

I’ll close with a quote from the Clay Shirky document that I mentioned in my last post,

“The people using your software, even if you own it and pay for it, have rights and will behave as if they have rights. And if you abrogate those rights, you’ll hear about it very quickly.

That’s part of the problem that the John Hegel theory of community — community leads to content, which leads to commerce — never worked. Because lo and behold, no matter who came onto the Clairol chat boards, they sometimes wanted to talk about things that weren’t Clairol products.

“But we paid for this! This is the Clairol site!” Doesn’t matter. The users are there for one another. They may be there on hardware and software paid for by you, but the users are there for one another.”

Cause really, it comes down to people communicating with each other – an organizer just gets the conversation going and helps keep it interesting.

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