Nice feedback on my ALPSP presentation…

Always good to get some nice feedback…

‘Dan Thornton provided a particularly insightful introduction to online
communities at a recent ALPSP seminar. The detailed analysis of the
available options for publishing in its varied forms provided an exciting
launch pad for the day itself and provided food for thought for the many
academic publishers attending the event.’

Nick Evans, Chief Operating Officer, Association of Learned and Professional
Society Publishers (

The slides in question are ‘Building online communities to support successful media brands’.

Speaking to learned professionals…

I’m not sure what the exact crossover might be between the wonderful people spending time reading this blog and the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, but just in case…

I’ll be speaking as part of a Seminar on July 7, 2009, Online CommunitiesWhat can scholarly publishing learn from other industries? The focus of my time is currently titled ‘Building successful communities to support successful media brands’, but that’s likely to be a starting point for showing how successful communities really are the brand.

It’s really interesting for a few reasons: -

Firstly it’s an industry I haven’t worked in, so I’m likely to learn as much from the people attending as they will from me.

Secondly, there’s a fun edge by allowing attendees to invest virtual money in investment opportunities presented by the speakers .

And thirdly, the other speakers are all people I’m going to be interested in meeting – Pam Sutherland from Oxford University Press (also the chair of the event), Alex Evans (CTO and Co-founder of Media Molecule – creators of LittleBigPlanet for the Playstation 3), Ros Lawler from Random House,  Phil Archer from W3C Mobile Web Initiative, Steve Paxhia from Beacon Hill Strategic Solutions and Gail Robinson from TSL Education Ltd.

So it’s going to be quite a challenge to claim the virtual money, but it’s one I’m ready for!

Why Mark Zuckerberg is right to dismiss Facebook users

As a specialist in online communities and social media, it may seem a little strange that I would suggest Mark Zuckerberg is right to ignore the complaints of Facebook users over the recent changes to the social network, but stick with me on this one.

Mark Zuckerberg by Leafar. on Flickr (CC Licence)

Mark Zuckerberg by Leafar. on Flickr (CC Licence)

The story so far:

Facebook releases a redesign which shows more of a Friendfeed/Twitter influence. Users react badly and an app is introduced to vote on the new design. The app has over 1 million votes so far, with 94% against the new layout and 600,000 comments – Facebook has over 175 million users for context. (A suitable time to remind everyone of ‘the supermarket effect‘ when it comes to redesigns?)

Then on Friday, Gawker posted details of a memo by Mark Zuckerberg to Facebook employees, supplied by an anonymous tipster.  ‘He said something like ‘the most disruptive companies don’t listen to their customers’

Sadly, the memo hasn’t been published anywhere, so like everyone else, I’m going on the third-hand hearsay. Cnet has a reasonable summary of the split between people attacking Facebook/Zuckerberg for his apparent lack of concern about users, and those who are supporting Facebook. So far, though, only Robert Scoble appears to have addressed why Zuckerberg is right to dismiss user concerns in this instance.

So why is Mark Zuckerberg right?

There’s a difference between collaboration and co-creation (which I evangelise), and, as Scoble puts it, ‘letting the customers run our business mode’. Think of every product that has been dulled by focus groups until it fails to ignite any interest from anyone.

Zuckerberg wants to keep Facebook disruptive – which is completely correct if it will avoid the loss of interest associated with the previous big social networks – look at the current state of Friendster and  Myspace. Both are still sizeable, but when did either of them ignite any sense of passion or controversy?

Too often, a great idea gets lost in repeated meetings, discussions and trying to meet the expectations of everyone involved – now try applying the views of 175 million people to a business plan.

Leadership by Dunechaser on Flickr (CC Licence)

Leadership by Dunechaser on Flickr (CC Licence)

And it takes strong leadership to lead any project, no matter how democratic in nature – from Wikipedia to Twitter, users contribute, collaborate, create, build-on and influence – but eventually someone has to pick a strategy and run with it.

And the redesign is leading to reports of the benefits for brands and for Facebook advertising.

Meanwhile Scoble points to user data and recommendations leading to businesses. And the fact that people may claim they’re rushing to leave since the redesign, but what people say is often different to what they do, and with such a critical mass, there are a lot of strong ties to break, with no like-for-like alternative really getting any attention.

They just don’t get it:

Part of my reason for posting is an article by Frank Reed over at Marketing Pilgrim, and others like it. We shouldn’t confuse customer service with customers dictating business strategy simply by an immediate backlash – all customer input should be acknowledged, and then a decision has to be made to act on it. It’s the same confusion that portrays Open Source as impossible to make money from, or social media as the only place to bother marketing in.

(And for the record, I don’t like the new design, I’m not going to leave over it, and I probably use Facebook 1-2 times a day for pleasure and 3-4 times a day for work, preferring Twitter and Friendfeed).

Ford’s quick response to online communities which acted in haste

Earlier today, a lot of blogs and forums were buzzing with the news that Ford had contacted a fan forum site, TheRangerStation, demanding they relinquish the use of all Ford logos and trademarks and pay restitution fees of $5000. The coverage ranged from hugely popular car blogs like Jalopnik, to forums like Mustang Evolution.

It seemed particularly weird, considering the company had set up TheFordStory to reach out to customers on a more personal basis, they were featuring blogs and communities as part of Ford Digital Snippets, and one of my Twitter contacts is @ScottMonty, who is head of Social Media at Ford.

So I messaged him to ask what was going on, along with a few other people, and Scott immediately started responding on forums and blogs even while he was finding out the details.

It turns out that actually TheRangerStation was selling vehicle decals using the Ford oval – perhaps without any ill-intent – but a very clear case of trademark infringement. Particularly as something very similar happened back in January regarding a Mustang Calendar made by a forum, which was soon clarified.

What has been really interesting is that an official statement is on the way, and in the meantime there have also been emails from the law firm in question. And all the while Scott appears to have been actively searching out as many communities as possible, ranging from Digg to individual forums for specific car models, to clarify what is happening and update people as much as possible.

It’s to be applauded that they haven’t waited for an official statement before reacting – Motrin, for example, still have a post from November 20th on their homepage after the Motrin Moms backlash. (Edit – official response now posted)

If you insist on an official statement, and you only post it on your own site, you rely on hordes of angry people taking the time and effort to visit you instead of rushing to post an angry response on whichever site they discover the story. By actively going out into the community, a lot of sites have already changed their original posts, comments have been calmed, and many of the negative commentary that would have been indexed for all eternity by Google will now reflect the situation more accurately.

It does also raise the perennial question regarding accuracy – a traditional mainstream media source would be expected to contact Ford to get their response pre-publication, even if the response didn’t arrive in reasonable time, or it was a ‘no comment’. And while I wouldn’t expect that of forum posters, it should be something that blogs and people serving news to their communities should consider implementing, in order to provide the best possible information, and to resist the urge to copy and paste to follow the herd based on the assumption that everyone is telling the unbiased truth.

Even as I write this, there’s still a trickle of Tweets promoting the original story, with no fact checking whatsoever – at a time when traditional news companies are falling, and we’re all in a position to play a part in a huge change in new reporting and distribution, we should be making every effort to raise out game.

The internet will always develop new niches… make them yours…

Ever wondered why networks tend to grow more quickly if they allow groups of self-form?

It’s because, no matter how well you know your subject and your customers, you’ll never predict their most interesting motivations for starting a group. And the ones that you might dismiss can end up being incredibly popular…

Take, for example, the Lolcat Bible… a wiki constructed to translate the Bible into the language of those lolcat pictures you’ve doubtless seen around the internet.

(Spotted thanks to a post on Dana Boyd’s blog)

Now would you have created a group for people interested in creating a Lolcat Bible? Would you have been able to quantify how many people would be interested in contributing, and how many people would then view it? Would you have even guessed Lolcatz would take off?

Me neither.

But by allowing anyone using your website to make their own choices, decisions and ideas, you’ll capitalise when one of their groups does take off. If you’re trying to explain it to the type of people who inists on quantifying everything by Return on Investment, you could try explaining that rather than spending time and money on second-guessing how to force people into categories, you’ll be hiring an unlimited number of people to do your research and development for you, and then reaping the benfits…

Still not convinced? Take a look at Wikipedia’s list of internet phenomena, and see how many you recognise. Then take the list round your peer group, and prepare to be shocked how many people who you’d have thought closely shared you interests will have radically different knowledge (Idea taken from The Long Tail…see reading list, right)…

One of the biggest joys of the internet is the fact you can find people, products and information on pretty much anything you might need, want, or be interested in. So why would you ever want to stop people experiencing that joy?

Oh, I can’t resist:
funny cat pictures & lolcats - Your problems are irrelevant to Technical Support-cat