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At some point during a long night of Twitter responses to the U.S. election, Ze Frank posted a simple message saying that he was looking for people to post where and what they were doing when Obama was elected president. “Gimme snippets of your night,” he said. And about 130 people did just that, some of them just a few sentences, some of them long messages of 800 words or more. Here’s a few samples:

— “I was the girl who ran up and hugged you under the gigantic American flag. One of the most surreal moments of my life. Thank you.”

— “It was incredible. Went down to Providence to be with friends. When he won, we went through the streets of Providence in a gigantic parade and ended up filling the State House at the end. Incredible.”

— “After Obama’s speech I proposed to my girlfriend of three years. She accepted. Today is a new day, and a new chapter in my life and in the life of my nation. (From Ze: Congratulations!)”

— “I cried tears of joy watching people all over the world waving American flags and cheering. I have never felt so hopeful in my life.”

— “I drove by every bar in our neighborhood, rolled down the windows, and honked and shouted YES WE CAN! Everyone outside the bars shouted and cheered back, and then I started honking and shouting for every person I saw walking on the street, and every single person cheered back and raised their hands.”

— “When CNN called the race for Obama, I teared up, stopped dead in mid-sentence. When Obama took the stage to accept I openly wept into my hands with relief and joy. And last night, for the first time in recent memory, I slept a full night of dreamless peaceful sleep.”

Why did people choose to post such personal comments at Ze’s site? You could argue that they would have done it anywhere, but I think the community that he has created around himself and his quirky Web productions has a lot to do with it, and how free people felt to respond. I also noticed that he stepped in several times to respond, even in small ways. As someone whose job now involves helping to encourage community, that’s the kind of thing I’m starting to think a lot about.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

13 Responses to “Ze Frank knows about community”
  1. Mathew,

    I tend to understand where you're coming from normally and appreciate that it comes from a different angle than most tech writers. I've spoken with Ze Frank befoe and generally agree that he's prescient with his moves, but how is this knowing his community? I don't see what this even has to do with community at all. He asked a question and people answered. You don't think this might be a reach?

  2. ze is the bomb, he's not content to simply do cool things, he insists that if you like the cool things he does you should be doing cool things too. the man is an inspiration.

  3. Ze has always 'put it all out there' whether it be emotions, opinions, frustrations etc. He defined building a community on the web. People feel a connection to him, as his projects always involve the “sportsracers” ideas and opinions. It is one thing to create a community, it is a completely different thing altogether to listen to it.

    There are some very good parallels between what Ze created and what President Elect Obama have done with the web – anyone can get a list of people, but it takes much more work and thought to get that list working for you. It is a two way street, even if you disagree – if you're community tells you otherwise, you better listen to them.

    This is where (and no disrespect to your new position) business fails miserably on the social web. Business has an ulterior motive in community building and that agenda is always super apparent. A good example of a successful campaign is Dell. Dell has done a great job with http://www.ideastorm.com/ they have actually listened to users suggestions. Ubuntu Dell's are a direct result of IdeaStorm, as is getting a Dell without the crapware pre-installed. It has been very successful for them.

    If you can present a community with as a non-commercial tool to share ideas, it can be very advantageous. In the media industry the applications (and benefits) are so apparent it is crazy, I envy your new job, as long as you have the autonomy to do leading edge stuff without having to explain a revenue model from day one to some senior VP who's first question is “What is a blog again?”, it should be a fantastic challenge.

    This is now, officially, the longest comment I have ever left on a blog.. :)

  4. I think it's also a matter of the question itself, and the audience. Not to be promotional in the comments (OK, just a little), but our site gets around 3,000 comments / month, many of which are extremely long and intensely personal. People share stories of losing loved ones, ending and beginning relationships, talk about hopes, dreams, fears, often using their real names. For an example take a look at some of the many heartfelt comments in this guest piece by Patti Digh.

    I recently unsubscribed from TechCrunch and a bunch of other tech. blogs because I simply couldn't face even seeing the rabidly hostile anonymous comments. We have only ever had to remove one comment for being offensive, and our community is always friendly and never hostile to one another. What's the difference? I think we've done some of it by virtue of the topics we cover, but mostly it's that our audience is fairly new to blogs and this kind of community approach to content, and they're grown-ups who believe their online persona is an extension of their real-world self, and that consequently they treat others as they would expect to be treated.

    There's also something about encouraging people to be honest and open that is disarming — the more it happens the more like an idiot you appear if you go barging in with comment spam or aggression.

    Sorry, long comment, and apologies again for its semi-promotional nature…

    Oh, and congratulations on the new job!

  5. I still remember the first time I saw “The Show” – then had to promptly watch every show that I'd missed prior to my “discovery,” then waited (sometimes impatiently) as the new shows came out. Then I advertised one of my websites (blog) via a golden “duckie.” THAT's when I first understood Ze's uncanny ability to engender community participation. Must have had 50 people come to my blog that day, with comments like “a friend of Ze is a friend of mine.”

  6. The important point is that people respond to Ze because he is comfortable trying new things, comfortable failing, comfortable helping and pushing other people to try new things (and, of course, because he's funny).

    Ze isn't promoting himself, he promotes others. And that's a key in building a community: create ways for people to define and show themselves through you. People connect and form a relationship because they want to, not because you want them to.

    The business connection: people buy things from companies because their products and services for their own selfish goals: enrich their lives, solve their problems, live better lives.

    Companies used to have to deal with groups of consumers: but it's becoming increasingly possible to instead deal with individual people, driven by 1) the increasing business and cultural benefits derived from transparency and “empowering” and 2) the steadily decreasing transaction costs of communicating, coordinating and connecting to individual people.

  7. The important point is that people respond to Ze because he is comfortable trying new things, comfortable failing, comfortable helping and pushing other people to try new things (and, of course, because he's funny).

    Ze isn't promoting himself, he promotes others. And that's a key in building a community: create ways for people to define and show themselves through you. People connect and form a relationship because they want to, not because you want them to.

    The business connection: people buy things from companies because their products and services for their own selfish goals: enrich their lives, solve their problems, live better lives.

    Companies used to have to deal with groups of consumers: but it's becoming increasingly possible to instead deal with individual people, driven by 1) the increasing business and cultural benefits derived from transparency and “empowering” and 2) the steadily decreasing transaction costs of communicating, coordinating and connecting to individual people.

  8. That's a good point, Taylor — especially the part about being open to
    experimentation, and promoting members from within the community.

  9. […] thoughts and feelings about the election, prompting a flurry of responses, Mathew Ingram picked up on Frank’s ability to build active online communities, asking: “Why did people choose to post such personal comments at Ze’s site? You could […]

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