WIWT launches and networks of shared interest

So fashion social network WIWT has publicly launched today after a beta period, and I’ve been checking it out after agreeing to upload at least one image of myself.

Founder Poppy Dinsey has done a pretty impressive job of publicising both the original blog and the launch WIWT (What I Wore Today) as a social network, but in case you haven’t seen it, the original blog began with her uploaded what she wore every day, with the plan of doing it for a year (I can’t quite remember if it involved a bet or a dare), and is now an open social network which allows anyone to upload photos of their outfits, and browse/follow/rate everyone else.

I’ve been following the progress fairly closely because after crossing paths online and at Twestival amongst other places, Poppy had the great idea to put a call out online and spend a week meeting up with all kinds of people working in digital and business in London, and I was able to chat over coffee. I’m pretty sure I was just one of the many people that week who thought it would be a logical and great idea to open up posting outfits and connecting/sharing in a simple and easy way. And it’s been cool to see it all coming together from the outside and observe how it’s gone.

So is WIWT any good?

Simple answer is yes. It’s pretty easy to use, although I haven’t been able to take advantage of the WIWT iPhone app. Upload 1-3 pics per day of the outfit you’re wearing, tag it, add links to buy it, and you’re done. Assuming you don’t spend ages checking out other people, following friends, and building up a list of clothes you really should buy.

I’m not qualified to talk about the design aesthetically, but it certainly works smoothly and logically from a user perspective, and probably one of my favourite elements is that every piece of text on the site comes across with great tone and character e.g:

‘Can I post more than once a day? I’ve had six outfit changes just through dinner.

No, sorry. We’re pretty strict about only one post per user per day. If you want to be a smartarse then you can take advantage of the fact that we allow three photos per post and upload three different outfits. We won’t tell you off if you do that.

Networks of shared interest:

What makes WIWT really interesting is that it’s built from the ground up.  It came from a very simple blog, and has grown into a social network. The idea of snapping ‘ordinary’ people on the street and publishing their outfits started in magazines years ago (including titles I’ve worked with such as Heat), but building up a community around a blog and then expanding it to allow everyone to get involved gives it a very different feel and experience. It’s not a top down selection, and although there’s one filter for ‘Editor’s Choice’ on the site, it’s forgiveable because it’s mainly based on user ratings, and you feel like Poppy herself is picking out the user outfits she really likes, rather than an anonymous member of an editorial team somewhere.

It’s why niche networks of interest can continue to thrive despite the ubiquity of the big social network giants (Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc). Browsing through the site you can see almost everyone (myself excepted) has got a keen interest in fashion, and that includes a slightly surprising number of male uploaders.

Lessons for communities and brands:

  • Start small and build up – a small thriving village or online community feels like something you want to be a part of. A huge empy city or community feels like something you want to get out of straight away. Too many larger brands adopt a ‘build it and they will come’ approach, and don’t see any benefit in small numbers of highly engaged people involved.
  • Personality – Poppy’s blog didn’t particularly follow any SEO rules or marketing plan. And although she’s undoubtedly very attractive, there are lots and lots of pretty women on the internet. What worked was that her personality came across in every single post and message, and she’s genuinely personable and funny. That’s what made her posts about dressing down or having to visit a hospital as interesting as those featuring her in a glamourous and revealing dress.
  • Alignment – Many of her outfits are from the high street – that means anyone can aspire and achieve the same thing. Inspirational content is something magazines have done well for years, but personally I got incredibly fed up on men’s magazines with fashion features starting with the lowest prices for even a shirt in three figures. I’ll spend a large amount on clothes occasionally, but with a business, family and other commitments, I’m not going to want to do that every month.
  • Be clever about reaching out – Poppy made great use of a packed week in London meeting everyone she could. From a logical perspective, I’m sure she could have skipped quite a few to focus on the most ‘important’ people. And in the build-up to the beta and launch, she’s done a good job of using varius ways to keep in touch with everyone and encourage them to get involved. I certainly wouldn’t upload photos of myself to a fashion site, but felt fairly comfortable doing it on WIWT.

There’s some stuff I wonder about, and I’m sure the site will continue to evolve now it’s public. It’d be interesting to know how many people are actually including links to purchase their outfits at the moment, and whether sharing a percentage of affiliate revenue would improve that, or possibly detract from the community aspect for example.

But at the moment, I’m just thinking it might help me make more of a sartorial effort when working in the home office, and hoping that at some point, some of my favourite clothing brands in motorcycling and vintage denim etc might check it out and get involved.

And I’m reminded of this talk that I gave a shocking two years ago now…


Why size isn’t everything – at least for communities…

I made a note to respond to a recent post by David Cushman, in which he talks about the value formula applied to cities by a theoretical physicist, and applies it to social networks and particularly Google +.

The money quote is:

“…it can be understood by a single magic number: 1.15. Each time the population of a city increases by 100 per cent (in other words doubles) the social and economic factors scale up by 115 per cent.
“So, if you compare a city with a population of one million people to a city of two million, then instead of the larger city having twice as many restaurants, concert halls, libraries and schools, you find instead an extra 15 per cent on top of what you’d expect. Even salaries are affected by this curious ratio…”
And David then applies the same thinking to social networks, to prove that overall size is more important than growth rate in creating overall value. Which isn’t wrong exactly, but it did leave me feeling uneasy, and trying to work out why I felt the need to disagree.
And here’s why – it’s about personal perspective. If you’re a social network or community owner, then the application of the value theory makes sense, and from an overall perspective, then the rise tide lifts all your individual ships up.
But from the perspective of an individual member of that community, the value you get isn’t just tied to the economic levels of the overall group, or the overall utility of the network as laid out in Reed’s Law.

Why size doesn’t matter for the individual

So here’s why overall size isn’t the biggest factor in the value of a community or social network – a city may have an overall rise in economic growth and communal resources in line with the overall size, but there are still economic and status differences between individuals. And these tend to be centred around particular areas and neighbourhoods.

plus size skinny jeans

Photo by arimoore on Flickr (CC Licence)

And it’s the rise or fall of my neighbourhood which impacts me most – whether that’s house prices, new community services etc. Even then, my own standard of living may not rise or fall in line with everyone else .

So the value I get from an online community is normally made greater by an increase in connections, in terms of awareness of opportunities. And most social networks have allowed us to have huge numbers of loose connections beyond the magic Dunbar Number of the number of people we can generally manage to have stable social relationships with (between 100 and 230).

But I think that the size approach Dave has chosen is purely looking at the numbers of opportunities, the quantity of information, and the overall value.

It’s not taking into account depth of relationships, information and opportunities.

You what now?

Time for the plain English example to illustrate what my half-formed thoughts are getting at:

For the sake of argument, let’s peg Facebook at 640 million users, Twitter at 170 million and Google+ at 25 million (The first two figures are from Wikipedia and are being used by Dave – the final one is the latest report by Reuters on Google+).

I’ve got hundreds of connection on both Facebook and Google+ and thousands on Twitter.

And yet the highest value interactions I’m having in terms of in-depth knowledge sharing and information which provides direct results for me comes from a couple of small subgroups on each, and a couple of far, far smaller forums, dedicated to relevant topics such as SEO, or Blogging. Those are where I’m seeing really useful information being shared – normally on private and invite-only groups and forums.

It doesn’t matter if a city doubles in size and gains 1.15 times the total amount of restaurants. It matters if the city gains a couple of restaurants that specialise in the food I love, at a price that’s affordable, and most importantly, if those restaurants are places my trusted friends are recommending and visiting.

And that’s why I think his theory of communities and cities can only be applied in very specific ways – my experience of Google+ has been totally different, perhaps because I was fortunate to be invited and engaged by some very cool people straight away, which enabled me to set up and enjoy my own neighbourhood.

It’s why I always enjoy visiting London for work – I have some great clients and there’s a huge potential for more, plus the chance to go to a load of cool events, and meet up with lots of cool friends. But I also enjoy living outside of London and engaging with a great group of digital people locally.


My presentation on building online communities

I was invited to speak about ‘Building online communities to support successful media brands’ on Tuesday by the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, as part of an event covering what Scholarly Publishing can learn from other industries.

As the opening act, and with a subject so huge, I opted to go for a fairly general overview to hopefully inspire more people to give it a go without worrying about the ‘correct’ way to do things – because I’ve found that beyond some simple principles, the most important thing is tailoring what you do to your specific community.

In retrospect I probably could have included some more specific case studies – for instance Absolute Radio on Twitter and Facebook! But that’s why I subtitled it ‘a work in progess’ because anything on online communities is going to need constant revision and updating, and I intend to create v2.0, v3.0 etc and hopefully involve some more people to create a more comprehensive guide.

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!