September 2003 - Posts
A lot of people write and talk about “Community.” “How to Jumpstart a Community.” “How to Nurture a Community.” “The Ideal Community.” The murkiest part is always answering the question, “What is community?”
Community is identification. In every nuance of the word. In case you missed it: Community is identification.
Communities are not about “people helping people.” My doctor helps me out, but we don't call each other up Thursday nights to talk about it. His community consists of other doctors and nurses and stuff. Those are the people he identifies with.
A user group is a community. The people at the water cooler are a community. Fans of any given team are a community. Those are easy ones. Newsgroups, Forums and Listservs are considered community. Are blogs a community? Are Amazon Review(er)s a community?
If a group is distinct enough for people to identify with, yes. Some bloggers are not community. Some never look outside their own bubble or engage in dialogue. Some people read blogs passively, as a newspaper. No reaction, no identification, just more information. Fine. Then you have the ones who put a shout out when visiting a city and gather. That's community. Look no further than the mass of personal blogs that pre-existed tech blogs. These cypersoaps have massive back and forth dialogs, they ebb and flow, alliances form, rivalries get personal. Community? These cats have friggin' flags.
On Amazon the format discourages discussions. Everyone reacts to the same book, reactions to another reviewer don't stand out as such, and wind up voted “not useful.” But hey, some reviewers develop followings. Their readers become a community by virtue of their identification with the writer, and each other. These folks get talked about at the water cooler.
There are further differences among communities that reduce to: different styles of participation, and the location of ego. But that's another day. . .
Bonus Tip for .Text Bloggers: Ctrl-Tab switches between formatted and HTML views!
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” -Napoleon Bonaparte.
“Unless you're being paid by the word.” -Me.
What the world really needs is a PrintScreen-key utility that saves the captured screens to full-sized gifs in a specified folder. Ideally it would be integrated with a keystroke-macro thing so you could capture several screenshots at different stages of a task, all in a single run. Market it to magazine columnists and book authors, you'll make a mint (if they ever get paid).
Quick, before it disappears -- my Converting from Access to SQL Server article is the 19th of “Most popular stories for the last month” at the SQL Server Worldwide User's Group (SSWUG) site. Next let's see how it does when linked from more pages than just my February 17, 2003 blog.
Original Link: Converting from Access to SQL Server
This CNet interview with Marc Smith is essential reading for anyone interested in online communities. Marc is Microsoft's resident sociologist and his insights on slicing and dicing message threads into community indicators is fascinating reading.
Marc also gave a great presentation this past July during the Silicon Valley Speaker Series, also terrific reading. It contains a few more nuggets on his analysis of newsgroups, broad issues of trust and identity, and a preview of a new portal being created by Microsoft for release this fall.
Read those two links (interview and presentation) and learn the basic patterns and you will save you time reading your own inbox. Especially if you subscribe to listservs or frequent Usenet. Here's an excerpt:
When you go back to your mail or to your news browser or any message-based communication tool that you have on your desktop, ask yourself, "Can this tool sort my conversations by how big they got?" And I'll bet you the answer is no. Our products don't do it. I don't know of anybody's products sort by thread size.
And why is that? Isn't the size of the conversation a salient property about that conversation, wouldn't you think? Well, maybe in the next version of Outlook we'll get that in there, but we find that big threads were the controversial threads. They got people really hot and bothered. A lot of people participated, there were a lot of messages, a lot of heat, maybe not a lot of light.
If you wanted to know what's controversial in my newsgroup, this might be a good list. If you said I'd like to avoid those controversies this is still a good list; you'll just stay away from them.
It seems obvious after you read it, but I only know a couple people who apply this sort of logic to their daily e-mail routine. Junk mail from people you know probably soaks up as much time as the kind you buy tools to kill.
Marc lives in Netscan, where the Tree Map is about the handiest drill-down visualization there is, and the Crosspost tool the coolest. At TechEd Dallas the download location for the Treemap libraries was announced, go check it out: http://research.microsoft.com/research/downloads/
Tree Maps would be a great thing to point at listservs. The WebForms version doesn't (yet) provide the click-and-drill functionality they implemented in WinForms, what you see at the Usenet Tree Map link above is less than the tip of the iceberg.
While I'm at it, other interesting projects at Microsoft include:
Data Management, Exploration and Mining Group (DMX)
Social Computing Group
And another great visualization tool, designed for drawing and manipulating mind maps (a.k.a. “oganizing your thoughts“) is Freemind. This is a wonderful open-source project that only requires a recent Java engine. Go get it.
Thanks to Korby Parnell for blogging about Marc.
There are several reasons why the concept of personas is so useful to design, and a few are touched on in Alan Cooper's recent “Origin of Personas” article. One point not covered is this simple fact: When you design with specific people in mind, and help these people improve their quality of life by easing their daily tasks, you create champions for your product.
Project managers talk about “stakeholder buy-in” or “ownership” as a key to successful adoption. In “The Tipping Point” Malcolm Gladwell discusses the role of champions (who he subdivides into “Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople“) in the success of a message or product. To pull in one more sales concept, sales isn't about selling the product, but selling yourself.
To put it all together, success is about getting credible, influential people to adopt a message as their own. Helping these people demonstrate specific results is the best goal you can aim for. Do that, and the message spreads itself.
Note who this equation does not include -- the so-called “decision maker” demographic, where those who sign the cheques are perceived at the top of the chain. My favourite philosopher taught that there is no such thing as “choice.” If there is uncertainty, then you are not yet aware of all the details. When you understand something clearly, the path forward is clear, and choice is irrelevant.
Are “decision-makers” irrelevant to the success of a product or message? When their decisions are based on external information and not personal experience then I would argue that yes, direct marketing to the traditional decision-maker foodchain is pointless. It is by giving potential champions (connectors, mavens, and salespeople) the power to demonstrate success that will make choice irrelevant, and clear the path for decision makers to fall your way. And to create those champions you must build specifically for their daily needs. Personas rock.