Community is the hard part

by Mathew on May 15, 2007 · 5 comments

I know this is kind of a stretch, but stay with me while I try to pull a couple of threads together from things that are going on right now: We’ve got the launch of Truemors, the Digg-style rumour site that Guy Kawasaki set up — which seems to have been over-run with spam and the equivalent of graffiti (what Second Lifers call “griefing”), and may be burying critical posts.

social.jpgThen there’s MySpace News, which some argue is a ghost town, and others say merely needs some work. And there’s Newsvine, which some argue isn’t as successful as it could be (and I would agree). And finally, there is the sad tale of how Derek Powazek and his wife were pushed out of the wonderful photo community/magazine they founded called JPG. What do all of these have in common? Community. I know that’s an overused word, but I think it is the key to the success or failure of virtually every online venture that tries to get “users” involved in some way.

Why isn’t MySpace News taking off? Because as Tony Hung suggests, it either isn’t appealing to the community or it isn’t making it easy for them to use it. Why isn’t Newsvine as successful as it could be? In part because the community isn’t as big a part of the picture as it should be. What is the secret to Digg’s success, and the thing that Truemors needs to find? A community. And what could kill JPG magazine? The loss of a loyal community.

It’s not enough to set up a cool site and say “Hey — look at my cool site! Come on over and form a community!” And it’s not enough to start with a community based around other things, such as MySpace, and then bolt on some other function and expect them to take to it immediately. It doesn’t work that way. And yes, there has to be moderation of some kind, but that path is pretty rocky too, as Digg has found out.

Facebook is (at least so far) a good example of a site that had a community, nurtured that community and may have some success in expanding into other things — but it is not easy. Far from it, as this essay by Cory Doctorow explains. In fact, it just might be the hardest thing of all. And I just came across a great post on how to manage a community by Matt Haughey, who runs one of the best there is: Metafilter (hat tip to Kottke for the link).

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