Archive for the ‘Building Community’ Category

Facebook issues mea culpa

Friday, September 8th, 2006

We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. I’d like to try to correct those errors now.

Well, they didn’t roll it back but they did make changes. We’ll see what the Facebook community has to say about it. Hopefully, the storm is over.

Read

Facebook faces community wrath

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

facebook.jpg

Congrats for the milestone, Facebook. I think that it happens to all communities when they get big enough. In every online community, there are people who complain. In some cases, like Slashdot, they do it all the time. Running a community website is hard. Sure, users are basically creating all the content for you, but there are countless tough business and product decisions that need to be made to change and improve sites and people in general, hate change.

Yesterday, Facebook rolled out two new features that they seemed to be quite happy with. Here’s a description of the new features from the PM, Ruchi Sangvhi.

News Feed highlights what’s happening in your social circles on Facebook. It updates a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again.

and

Mini-Feed is similar, except that it centers around one person. Each person’s Mini-Feed shows what has changed recently in their profile and what content (notes, photos, etc.) they’ve added.

Now the problem is that many Facebook users like the privacy that they have on the site and weren’t too pleased to see these new features.

Here’s a quote from the Stop It Facebook manifesto on Middlesell.com

When we join facebook, we automatically give up a little bit of our privacy. To use Facebook has always been “socially-acceptable stalking.” Now, though, they’ve just gone too damned far. No one wants their girlfriend or boyfriend knowing when they’ve commented on a photo, written on a wall, or anything else. No one wants people to see that they’ve left a group; it could offend someone. No one really wants to see the change in status of someone’s love life.

And as a result of the member’s revolt, here is a bit of Facebook’s reaction from the CEO.

We’ve been getting a lot of feedback about Mini-Feed and News Feed. We think they are great products, but we know that many of you are not immediate fans, and have found them overwhelming and cluttered. Other people are concerned that non-friends can see too much about them. We are listening to all your suggestions about how to improve the product; it’s brand new and still evolving.

Oh boy. There are whole slew of community lessons here.

First, don’t launch new features until you have the “leadership” of the community sign off on it. I don’t know a lot about Facebook, but as with all community sites, there are people who are their biggest users and usually that means they are your biggest fans.

These people should get previews of new features and other privileges. You need to treat these people like royalty because they are your front line both when you need to deliver a bitter pill and when you are delivering great news. Better yet, they should serve as a both a sounding board and a microcosm for the larger community.

Second, community websites aren’t a lot without any members. If all or a significant part of the user base takes their ball and goes home, it would be devastating for Facebook. Pete Cashmore over at Mashable said it best, “The revolt also underlines that with social networks, the users are in control.”

What Facebook does in the next few days is crucial to their survival. People will always remember this incident on the site and it will affect their perception going forward. 10-20k users out of 9 million protesting is not insubstantial number, especially for the amount of noise they are making. Fortunately, Facebook did react immediately with comments. Now they need to respond with action.

What should the do next?
If it were me, I’d roll the feature back. Issue a mea culpa. Go back to the drawing board. Listen to the users. Design the feature around their needs. At the very least, make the feature opt-in only. That would likely castrate the product, but I’d take this as a very valuable lesson and warning.

Links

Facebook Users Revolt, Facebook replies
Facebook backlash begins

Protesters

A day without FaceBook
TalkFace Message Board
Doug Jones Sneezed, 1:23pm

Wednesday Links

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

How to be a Net video hit
SF Comical..err… Chronicle documents how to become a net star. Apparently, all you need is a cell phone.

Learning from your referrers
Pronet documents how to use web metrics to get to know your audience. Two words – Google Analytics. Seriously tho, stats are the name of the game if you are trying to build an audience.

Six Apart acquires Rojo
Six Apart adds to their arsenal an RSS aggregator and search engine. Haven’t used Rojo since an early beta and it seemed to only be designed for the uber-RSS geek, wonder if it changed?

Small Business and Social Media

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

getlocal.jpgA very good friend of mine is relaunching her seasonal store in San Francisco this fall. It’s a really great non-profit business that sells items made by local artists. I talked to her the other day and was trying to convince her that even though the store is local, she should try to use some free online tools out there to help publicize her business online.

Some of these items are specific to the store I’m helping, but others are applicable to any local store. I’ve listed my recommendations in priority order and I can help you with most of the below if you like.

Cheap and Easy

Blog
Your current website is great, but I bet it is hard to update and may not get updated as often as you’d like. Setting up a blog is relatively simple to do and with your down time through the week, you could use your spare time to write about items in the store. Also, write a little profile for the artists/crafters that you feature (or better yet, ask the artists to do this for you). A blog is a great way to both show off what you are selling in-store, but also a way to attract other artist’s to sell their work as well.

Your blog also serves as a good place for people to ask you questions, for reporters to gather info about your store and best of all, other folks to link to you. Blogs tend to get more Google love, so hopefully, it brings you more customers.

Local search
Make sure that your store has a listing in all the local search engines like Yelp, Yahoo, Google, CitySearch, and Judy’s Book. Asking customers to review your store on these sites post purchase probably wouldn’t hurt. Search engines are devoting a lot of effort into these areas and you can only assume that they (at least the bigger ones) are getting a lot of traffic.

Flickr
Photograph everything that comes into the store and post lower resolution images (ie not printable) of the items that are for sale. I know there may be some sensitivity surrounding artist’s work, so make sure they know (and are ok with) you posting pix online. Tag all the images that you upload with your store name and thoroughly tag what they are and who they came from. This will help folks find either the artist or the work in the future.

Also, use Flickr to post pictures from the launch party, (which is something you would probably do anyway). Encourage other photographers to tag their Flickr images with your store’s name. This will help create a larger pool of pictures.

A little sidebar – a good way to make your products look good is to use a lightbox when photographing them. Here’s a link to make a cheap one.

MySpace
Create a MySpace profile for your store. Add all of the artists that you work with as your friends. Join groups and post on forums that make sense for your business. I know that many of your artists have a presence on MySpace and promoting your store and artists in MySpace will get those crazy teens in your store. Seriously, tho, MySpace has helped many a business get going moving product and it’s not outside the norms of MySpace, nor is it against their TOS. And hey, no web design chops necessary ;-).

A little more work and expense

Etsy
Etsy is a great online marketplace for handmade goods online. Create a store to help sell and promote your artists stuff online. I know that the focus of your store is selling local stuff locally, but ultimately, you are the artists agent, and I’m not sure they really care where it is sold, so long as they are putting food on the table. Etsy just did a great promotion with the upcoming Craft magazine from O’Reilly (another great resource to check out).

Second Life
Build a virtual store on Second Life. Ok, this one is a bit more difficult and might take an actual programmer, but a lot of your locals spend time on Second Life and people are spending real money on Second Life. If any of your artists are virtual, perhaps you could get them to sell their virtual goods in your virtual store. The options are virtually limitless. This is one you’d have to find someone else to help (I know a guy).

In the interest of full disclosure, one thing I would recommend is that you should make sure that artists that sell through your store should know what you are planning on doing with their work. You can decide whether to let them opt out of the program, but ultimately, these recommendations can be great ways to promote both your store and the artists.

Ok, that’s my top level view. Any questions?

Reputation Systems and Gaming Epinions

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

I want to look a little more at the Yahoo! Answers story and add what I’ve learned about gaming a system. When you look back at the history of Epinions, the site made a big bang when it debuted because it offered to pay writers for their product reviews. The idea was the company would make money off of ads (this is when banners were big) and they would share that money with the community of writers.

At the time, your “Income Share,” as it is known, was based on the number of people that looked at your review. At the time, I believe that the going rate was something in the $.30 per-page-view range. You can just imagine how this got gamed.

How it works
Now, given that the site’s raison d’être was product reviews, there is a relatively finite amount of products to review and ideally, from a shopper’s perspective, you would want the “best” review at the top. So to accomplish this, Epinions built a reputation system called the Web of Trust. In theory, Epinions’ “Web of Trust,” or WoT what an early social network where your “friends” were people whose reviews you trusted and respected.

The second component of review ranking was how helpful someone found your review. At the bottom of every review, users are asked to rate the review on a 4 point scale from “Not Helpful” to “Very Helpful.” Review order is determined by a combination of the two criteria, WoT and review ranking. The basic idea is that if you are trusted more than another member and your review received a higher rating, that review would appear higher up in the list.

The story goes that writers on the site formed rating and trust circles to boost their own reviews over others. The stakes for this were high. If you were the top review on a popular product, most shoppers would see your review first. If you collected all the page views, you received considerably more money than anyone else who wrote the review. And while points are nice, money is a lot better.

So, what did Epinions do to thwart gaming?

(more…)

Is Yahoo Answers being gamed?

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

The WSJ is reporting this morning that people are asking and answering inane questions on the Yahoo! Answers service to boost their point scores.

Here is the WSJ’s explanation of the system:

“A points economy is like a regular economy, except the currency is points, not currency. Even though you can’t exchange these points for real-world goods and services, people will still spend enormous amounts of time accumulating them just to beat others in a list of top point-getters, or simply to compete with themselves.

Web sites are taking advantage of this aspect of human psychology and setting up point systems to draw in users to help create “content” for them.

If you’re a member of Answers — total users are in the millions — you can gain points asking questions, answering questions, and rating the questions and answers of others. The points are good for nothing, save allowing you to move up through the seven levels in the Answerers hierarchy. With each new level, you gain more powers on the site, such as the ability to ask and answer more questions, and thus get more points.”

Some background info on Yahoo! Answers

It’s interesting to see this particular system gamed as the incentive is somewhat low. Notoriety is one thing, but it seems that perhaps there are more lucrative sites out there to game. One thing that I learned at my time at Epinions is that the higher the incentive, the more likely it will be gamed.

Congrats to Yahoo! Answers for figuring out a way to make users care enough to game the system.

Read – [WSJ free link]

Epinions Lesson #1: Let them talk to each other

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

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 :-) ]