7 reasons why Threadless rules Funny, I was just ordering t-shirts today. Heather got me the subscription for my birthday, which totally rules. This site really is the model for community run websites. The product is created by the community, voted on by the community, modeled by the community, marketed by the community – it might make you wonder what the company actually does.
(of course this link is from 37 Signals… is there a Chicago conspiracy going on here?)
The Facebook lesson A post on the Church of the Customer focuses on how Threadless handled a mishap on the site that could have been a total fiasco. They contrast that with Facebook’s stumble a few weeks ago. A great lesson in building online community.
Social Networking sites: you don’t own the commmunity Biz Hack follows up the Church of the Customer post with some great insight here. “Intent counts more than technique,” is the quote that stuck with me. Threadless handled their mishap upfront and honestly, Facebook didn’t. It makes people love Threadless even more.
Threadless on Sale Last, but not least, Threadless is having a sale until tomorrow, so stock up on new duds.
Support my Threadless habit by clicking the link and buying a shirt!
Tailrank 2.0 New features detailed in the Tailrank blog, but here are the highlights: archives added, Entertainment category added, and the ability to expand and contract whole stories. Great upgrade for an invaluable service.
The first thing that I thought today was how strange it was that Mark Cuban had been calling Google “moronic” for thinking of buying YouTube. I don’t imagine that he was telling Tim Koogle that he was “crazy,” for buying his company, Broadcast.com, a company that Yahoo! would spend the next several years dismantling.
Mark’s definitely asking the right question as to whether this is a good deal for YouTube or not. After all, Broadcast.com, which arguably was more of a “real business,” (they had corporate customers, after all), wasn’t making any money and still got $5 billion. YouTube probably should have held out for a lot more money.
Ah, but those were bubble times and everyone thought that the future would come more quickly than it did. Who could have imagined that streaming video would suck so much? Aside – can you pause Real, QT or WMV streaming without waiting for 2+ mins for it to restart yet?
While the YouTube acquisition is similar to Yahoo!’s acquisition of Broadcast.com, I think there are two key differences. First, the iPod (and to a certain degree, the cell phone). Everyone has one (or both) and short form video excels on these devices. I know you can’t carry these YT videos around easily yet, but it’s coming.
Second, and more importantly, is the Class of 2009. If you live anywhere near teenagers, you may have noticed that there are a lot of them. The Class of 2009 (and the years surrounding them) is the largest graduating class in American history. These kids are already powering a lot of Web 2.0. They have always had a computer in their home and they probably can barely remember not being connected to the internet.
Google’s acquisition of YouTube is part of their bet on this upcoming generation of creators. It has taken us a long time, but we’re finally getting people off their butts and making them into content producers not just consumers. Mark Cuban helped lay the groundwork for this revolution and instead of pedantically nitpicking from the side lines, he should be cheering them on.
Now, let’s just hope they find a business model. :-)
I remember first picking up Wired Magazine because its heavy stock cover and non-standard size. Most magazines at the time were all basically the same size and shape and generally of varying paper weight from light to completely flimsy. I’ve always been a bit of magazine nerd and also being a computer nerd made Wired an easy purchase for me.
Wired was a big influencer of mine (especially in college, don’t get me started on their decline), but one article in particular has stuck with me for a long time. In Wired 1.03, published in July of 1993, Mitch Kapor wrote a manifesto called “Where Is the Digital Highway Really Heading?” that inspired me at the time and it was that article that really began my fascination with the internet and what the future might hold. Unlike re-reading most futurist prognostications, looking back at that article today doesn’t make for a good laugh. Most of what Mitch talked about then has come to pass.
Now a lot of the article talks about the technical and political hurdles of our current reality, but I’m more interested in the social implications of the article. The idea that captivated me most was that in the internet was “an interactive medium based on two-way communications, where people can fluidly shift from position of listener to that of speaker, from role of consumer to that of provider.”
Hmmm….. this sounds familiar.
So, Mitch Kapor looks like a pretty big smarty-pants, eh? Well, actually, this future, in theory, should have come a long time ago.
The web, you might remember, was given to us by Tim Berners-Lee while he hanging out at CERN in Switzerland. He had originally thought that “editing the web was as important as browsing it.” With the benefit of hind sight, that’s certainly not what happened with Web 1.0.
So what the hell is my point? I think that blogs, video sharing, wikis and the rest of social media are fulfilling that prediction of everyone becoming both a consumer and a provider. How long will it take us to get there? It took about 7 years for the first generation web to boom and bust, but even with the bust, people’s behavior had changed permanently. I’m too chicken-shit to make a bad prediction on my blog, but it looks like we’ll get there before you know it.
In video games, levels are the natural extension of points. Once you receive so many points or have accomplished so many tasks, you are awarded with a new level. If we model this to real life, you could equate this to accumulating wealth, social standing or a position at a company. Games provide a way to achieve “levels” more quickly than in real life and in turn, create more satisfying game play.
Typically, achieving a new level affords you abilities not otherwise afforded to mere beginners. Web sites tend to use two different kinds of levels, explicit, quid pro quo levels or levels that are really jobs in some ways. The benefits of these levels varies from site to site, but generally, if you have achieved a higher level at the site, higher rank means more benefits.
Quid Pro Quo
I’ve mentioned Yahoo! Answers before, but Answers bears mentioning again given how transparent their system of levels is.
Do this, get that. It’s pretty simple.
Levels as reputation
Usually, icons next to one’s name on a website indicates to outsiders (or other insiders), that the icon holder has a higher reputation than someone sans icon.
eBay rewards members with positive feedback with “reputation” stars. Yellow stars are on the lower end of the feedback scale, while red tops out their feedback scale.
It may sound silly, but long time eBayers covet these stars and ultimately, having a green star (5k+ positive feedback) on eBay can really help sales.
eBay’s usage of icons extends beyond reputation for sure, but the association of icons with reputation levels is an incentive to get as many icons next to your seller info as possible. Filling out a profile page, reviewing products or adding your Skype contact info will get you a new icon.
Levels as a job
The best social media sites have users that feel so strongly about the site and use it so much, it is often what some would consider a part time job.
Wikipedia would be a massive failure if it did not employ levels of some kind. If everyone were equal on the site, newbies and old timers, Wikipedia would be rife with errors, vandalism and infighting.
While all Wikipedians, by definition, contribute to the site, there are numerous people who also have administrative roles.
1. Stewards can give and remove permissions to users.
2. Administrators can prevent articles from being edited for numerous reasons.
3. Bureaucrats assign who can be administrators and stewards.
One attains these levels by not only contributing heavily to Wikipedia, but also has a commitment to helping others contribute and keeping the site to a high level of standards.
At the simplest …. ahem… level, levels are a good way to compare how you are doing in comparison to others. Levels are a good way to reward heavy users and in turn, ensure your web site runs more smoothly.
What other sites out their use levels effectively? How are you using levels on your site?
SocialText Wiki goes 2.0 And aims to solve the biggest problem of most wikis today, UI. SocialText 2.0 enables wysiwyg editing and improves the flow of default SocialText sites. To get their Web 2.0 on, they renamed their key word feature to “tagging.” WetPaint already has a great UI, but is aimed at the consumer market and doesn’t offer the extensive feature set many corporate users want.
FaceBook to sell to Yahoo!? WSJ is reporting today that Facebook may be in talks to sell to Yahoo for $1bn. One has to question the dollar value of almost any social network due to the fickleness of their clientele, but despite recent problems, Facebook appears to be going strong on track to do $100mm in revenue this year.
Ahhhhh… earning points. This is an old chestnut. Earning points in games doesn’t really need much explaining. Shoot Space Invader, get points. Points are all about keeping score (duh) and then comparing your score with your friends.
There are at least two types of points used in community websites, social points and redeemable points. Amy Jo Kim illustrates social as anything from your feedback score on eBay or interestingness on Flickr. Let’s look at some other examples. Redeemable points are used commonly by airline mileage programs, credit cards or a sandwich card from a local lunch joint. I’m going to talk about social points.
In yesterday’s post, I talked about collecting achievements on Xbox Live but they employ a “gamer score” so you can compare your score with your friends. They use leader boards so you can compare to everyone’s score. But for today, let’s talk about some non-gaming sites.
Web of Trust
Epinions uses a concept called the “Web of Trust” to ensure that the best reviews always appear at the top. The “Web of Trust mimics the way people share word-of-mouth advice every day.” So, how does it work?
First, all reviews that appear on the site are rated by users. To even appear on the site, a review must be rated helpful or better. Then if there is a list of reviews about the same product, those reviews that are rated highest appear further up the list.
Second, as a member of Epinions, you are encouraged to trust members whose reviews you like and opinions you trust. If you add someone to your “Web of Trust,” their review will appear above others when you are reading a list. More importantly, though, the more members that trust you, the higher your review will appear in a list.
Rating the rater
I’ll talk about the concept of levels in a later post, but for now, let’s just say if you are a reviewer that is well trusted, then your ratings matter more. Put simply, everyone gets to vote, but some votes count more. This helps ensure a certain level of writing quality on the site. Having a top rated review on a product that is popular will ensure that you have more readers than those reviews below yours.
And popularity is the name of the game. All the social points are tallied on Epinions by the stats you and your review have.
Many community review sites use variations on Epinions “Web of Trust.” I’ve not too deeply in Amazon’s reviews system, but I suspect something similar is in play.
Yahoo! Answers (whom we’ve talked about before) uses a simpler points system, but to be fair, Epinions has been refined over the years to alleviate problems of gaming the system. Yahoo! Answers will have to create some safeguards to ensure the quality of their site at some point in the future.
Where Epinions point system is complicated and opaque, Yahoo! Answers point system is simple and transparent – earn points by answering questions, earn more by being the best answer. For every There are a couple of twists, however. First, you get a point for just showing up. At first glance, this seems odd. Why give points for not doing anything? Having been an active lurker on many community websites, I suspect this is to give the vast majority of users, ie the lurkers, a sense that they belong to the community. [Editors note it seems that Yahoo! understands the lurker phenom quite well].
The main reason to have points is to compare yourself against others. This is the most primary construct of any game that has a winner and a loser.
Leaderboards bring out the inner competitor in users. Even if you are number 3200 in a list, you have somewhere to go, and hopefully that is up.
Points and leaderboards make sites more fun by keeping users jockeying for position and ultimately, creating more value for your site.
So, you’ve built your totally kick ass web 2.0, long tail, peer to peer, social networking, beta meme review wiki that has all the paradigm shifting, AJAX created reflections you can shake a stick at.
You’ve been on TechCrunch, Engadget, Boing Boing and you’ve been properly Dugg. You’ve gotten great press and lots of people have tried your site. Trouble is, people come to your site once and return only periodically, but they never add anything to your site. The trouble is, your site isn’t fun.
Make your site fun
I heard a talk that Amy Jo Kim gave back at Etech that really stuck with me. She talked about using gaming mechanics to make your site more fun. Gaming mechanics are essentially elements of games that make them addictive by employing elements of behavioral psychology. A great book on this is Theory of Fun by Raph Koster. According to Raph, “fun is about our brain feeling good.”
I thought about the sites I’ve liked, used and help design and the best, most successful ones all use gaming mechanics to bring people in and keep them there. Community based sites tend to use this best.
I’ll give you the basic outline of some gaming mechanics and then draw a few examples from a number of sites.
Amy Jo outlines 4 very powerful techniques to bring people back in droves. Most of these items aren’t intended for blogs, but for community based web sites.
Each one is a powerful mechanism, but used in combination, they add up to a pretty addictive experience for some. For today, I’ll talk about collecting.
Collecting is essentially amassing stuff and showing it off. You know people that are very susceptible to this. Your crazy aunt’s beanie baby collection or your friend who bought all those Magic cards back in college are great “real world” examples of this behavior. Collecting is directly related to the primal instinct to hunt and gather. Primitive men and women who were good at hunting and gathering got better mates. Web sites use this mechanism very successfully (although this is often counter to attracting better mates).
Ok, I realize that Xbox Live isn’t just a website but it serves as a great example.
When Microsoft launched Xbox Live, they did it to reinforce certain activities they wanted gamers to engage in. The folks at Microsoft want you to a. buy an Xbox and b. buy games. One way to get users to do this is to make the games fun (naturally), but building in some extra elements of fun can’t hurt reinforcing this.
On the Xbox Live site, you can show off your gamer card that shows all the games you’ve played and the “achievements” you’ve collected in a given game. You can then compare how well you’ve done against your friends.
Comparing accomplishments and competing against friends is pretty powerful and it makes you want to do better than your friends to show off. Finishing a game, having a higher score, accomplishing something difficult both increases your score (which gets into Points) and the number of accomplishments
Naturally, adding lots of friends to your Xbox profile is powerful as well, but it’s even more powerful on LinkedIn.
Must. Complete. Profile.
There are a number of activities on LinkedIn that are natural. First, adding your immediate friends and colleagues is probably the reason that you are there, so that’s a no brainer. But adding a recommendation isn’t necessarily a natural thing, but yet you feel compelled to do so in order to have a complete profile. It’s also something that strengthens LinkedIn’s network. That ties into the end point of collecting and that is completing a set.
When talking about collectible card games, beanie babies, Xbox live profiles, or whatever, completing a set is what you are striving for. No one wants an incomplete set and marketers are keen to exploit this angle.
What do your users collect? What sets do your users need to complete?
Zillow adds community features Zillow, that oh-so-web2.0 info porn real estate site, announced they are letting homeowners share improvements with the world. Zillow has been criticized for having wildly innaccurate estimates for property value, theoretically, this will help increase their accuracy.
Build your own Atlas Gloves Here’s a bit of extreme nerdery, but I’ve got a keen interest in alternative interfaces. Link contains instruction about how to make LED gloves that create an alternative interface to Google Earth. I’ve not tested these gloves, but look like a great weekend project.
YouTube, Warner Music in ad share agreement Warner Music will provide it’s entire music video catalog for YouTube users to remix and reuse. Warner will get a cut of all advertising associated with their videos and their derivative works. Sadly, for users, they get nil for there efforts. PaidContent postulates that this is the model for deals going forward. Still, this is a step in the right direction.
TechCrunch posed an interesting question over the weekend regarding top users of social media sites: should they be paid?
In my experience, the answer is, it depends.
Epinions vs. Amazon
Amazon pays their users nothing to write product reviews. Epinions pays their users a small amount. Yet, Amazon has many, many more reviewers.
Why? Amazon has a much larger reach. For many writers, nothing is more satisfying than having a large audience. David Walker posits “recognition, respect and goodwill” explain why these writers do what they do.
Book reviewers come to Amazon because it’s where the bulk of intelligent, Internet-using bookbuyers come to shop. Some people would call it a book-buying “community”.
Epinions has a great community of book reviewers as well, but it pales in comparison. Why? People don’t comparison shop for books. They buy them at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or their local book store.
YouTube vs. Revver
A very similar kind of battle is being waged in the video sharing space.
Not content to concede viral video to YouTube, competitor Revver has stars of its own and a revenue sharing program based on still image ads at the end of each video. Ad based revenue sharing is unlikely to be sufficient incentive for the vast majority of any system’s users, but that may not be the case for a site’s biggest stars.
Revver is squarely aimed at people who want to make money for their work. Why else would you post your video on Revver? At this point, it is not just to generate an audience, at least not the kind that YouTube can.
Why does Revver offer money to share revenue with it’s users? To get above the noise generated by YouTube and to attract top talent not content with just giving away their creations. When you are #2 in an industry, you have to do something that differentiates yourself from a competitor.
Revver isn’t going to create community for it’s users, that’s what YouTube is for. When you create a following on YouTube, you can choose to graduate to Revver to get paid for your work. The question is will your crowd follow you there?
Why are they there?
If you run a social media site, you have to ask why your users are there. Would all of your users leave if someone else offered to pay them? Could you pay users and stay in business? If you can’t, how can your competitor? Using books as an example, I’m not sure anyone could stay in business paying book reviewers very much given the small margins in the book industry.
When you work out how long it must take a user on Digg or Netscape to be a top user, $1000 doesn’t really work out to a lot of money. These people aren’t doing it for money. They are doing it for recognition. They are doing it because their stoking their passion. They are doing it because they like the site, the activity, the community of folks around them. They are doing it for fun. Maybe money will make it more fun, maybe not.
If you have a community site that is happily plugging along and another site pops up and offers their best users money for their work, what do you do? Is Digg suffering as a result of Netscape’s offer to pay? If it is, it’s not because Netscape is better, it is because Digg has failed to create enough of a reason to stick around.
There is no doubt that in this new social media world that paying users for their work is inevitable. The value that users create for these sites is incredible. But these sites create value for their users as well, it’s just not quantifiable in the form of payment.
[Update: Micki over at Revver comments on graduating to Revver from YouTube]
Here’s a little weekend fun for you and your iPod.
I’ve found that my iPod usage is a little unusual. First, my music collection is somewhere in the 130 gb range (most of it legal) and that while I do listen to music on my iPod, I listen to podcasts and watch video podcasts more often.
While there is a tremendous amount of crap out there, I’ve found some real gems that introduce me to new topics, challenge my way of thinking or just feel smart.
Here are my top 5 brainy podcasts both audio and video. All links are into the iTunes Music Store.
TEDTalks I’ve talked about TEDTalks here before and this video series rarely disappoints. With Al Gore, Julia Sweeney, Jimmy Wales, Nicholas Negroponte and a host of others, the talks given are rarely boring and always thought provoking.
NY Times Talks Interviews with Larry David, William Gibson, Bill Murray and talks with Randy Cohen (The Ethicist) are highlights of this podcast series.
Distributing the Future This O’Reilly series spotlights the best talks from their conferences featuring leaders from the tech industry. This series is consistently interesting and educational.
NPR Story of the Day Story of the Day runs the gamut of NPR’s daily stories and generally delivers a very interesting story that you won’t hear anywhere else.
The Show with ZeFrank “He thinks so you don’t have to.” ZeFrank is one part the Daily Show on speed mixed with a teenager’s diary. Tight editing and thought provoking topics (and often just plain ridiculous). If ZeFrank is the future of video podcasting, we’re in for a great future.
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.
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.
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.
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.