Epinions Lesson #1: Let them talk to each other

One of the things that stunned me when I joined Epinions was that they had no formal message boards. Before I joined, (in my mind) the very definition of a Web community was message boards. I had spent countless hours either lurking or actively participating in many message board, Usenet, and BBS communities even before the Web existed. It was weird that Epinions didn’t have message boards. This was community, right? How did they talk to each other?

I discovered, however, that members did talk to one another. Quite a bit actually. First, there were off-site message boards (we’ll save those for another post), but second, while I hadn’t noticed it, every review on Epinions has a comments section. The comments section is where all the community interaction happened on Epinions prior to the launch of Epinions’ message boards.

So what could you expect in the comments section? This is what Epinions wanted to happen in comments:

And here is what happened as well:

In many cases, comments were just a way for friends on the site to let each other know that they read the review and what they thought of it. This is where the flame wars happen. This is where people let you know that they like you. And just like the blogosphere, that’s where community happens on Epinions.

Lesson learned – give people a place to talk, or they will do it wherever they can.

[By the way, we launched message boards on Epinions while I was there. A hell of a lot of community happens there as well :-) ]

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