FOWA07b: Heather Champ & Derek Powazek

We’ve got this community. Now What?
Jewish creation myth, where an angel seeds the world with people. Angel has two sacks, geniuses and dunderheads, and there was an accident, and all the dunderheads spilled out of the sack into a valley and founded the town of Chelm, where they do stupid things.

If you’re running a community site, it can feel like you’re trying to run Chelm. Want to tell some Chelm stories to shed light on community.

User-Generated Discontent
Say you’re Yahoo, and you want to build some topic sites, and you decide to pull in some photos from Flickr tagged with Wii, and people feel unhappy about this, they start tagging non-Wii images with ‘Wii’. Yahoo were good when it became apparent that there was a problem, but people remained pissed off even when Yahoo played by the legal rules. Lesson is that you have to go beyond the legal rules. Give people copious opt-outs.

The way that Flickr’s built now, can role out new features without having to take the site down. When site has to be taken down its’ for database changes. Last summer, had to take the site down for something unexpected. Instead of serving usual “Flickr’s having a massage”, served a “Make Lemonade” page, with an impromptu competition to win a free Pro account. Had 2000 different entries, and people responded well. Crap is going to happen, internet is chaos and sometimes people push the wrong button, and it’s how you respond to that that counts. Realised that they couldn’t give away one free Pro account, but sixty, and gave everyone who entered a few free months,

It sucked that the site went down, but tried to make it not suck. Want to do ‘Connect the Dots” if it happens again.

So, when you’ve fucked up, say you’ve fucked up. Confess! Your living off the seat of your pants, which means you’re going to make mistakes, and you can earn credibility from the community if you just ‘fess up.

Stewart wrote a “Sometimes We Suck”, when Flickr growth was higher than anticipated. Mondays were a nightmare because that’s when people use Flickr most, and shit would rain down from the sky, and at this point they just wanted to say that they were really sorry that things weren’t as good as they wanted it to be.

Ryan Carson did similar last week, when a sponsor email went to the wrong list – the list of people who said they didn’t want sponsor emails. Ryan emailed everyone and apologised for the mistake.

Mistakes will happen, but you can benefit if you cop to it.

Don’t keep score. Scoreboards, leader boards, top things, winners – are an excellent way to motivate peopll when you are playing a game, but most web apps aren’t explicitly about playing a game, but doing other things. Pay close attention to score keeping, and using them when you want the result to be “let’s play a game”. When you don’t, it can work against a community.

Flickr’s ‘Interestingness’, and they ranked the photos and it drove people nuts. There’s nothing else in the Flickrverse where people are ranked. They self-organise, but they don’t rank. Interestingness was bad, it created aggravation where there was none before. Now it is a randomly loaded page so that there isn’t any ranking.

It wasn’t that ‘interestingness’ was bad, it was that the interface originally was ranked, so you could see how much stuff was above you. and people try to game that. Digg gets gamed, and if the gamers win, Digg uses.

Have an editorial layer on top of what you are doing. If people are bringing you stuff, and you have a lot of it, e.g. Flickr has 1.5+ million photos uploaded a day. So how do you put an editorial layer above that? There’s Flickr blog, there’s interestingness, and the 24 Hours of Flickr – asking people to take a photo representative of their day. 7,000 contributed the photo, half of them put geolocation on it, and so could add them to a map. Interesting way to look through a slice of Flickr and see common themes, e.g. birthdays, weddings, Cinco de Mayo, etc. That’s one way to bring people to the forefront and reward them in a way that was more collaborative rather than having a leader board.

Producing print stuff is seen as a money maker, but producing a physical thing is a great motivator to encourage peopel to participate in your universe. Having a physical artefact from a virtual community is a cultural signifier that ‘i am part of this’. JPG magazine was originally an invitation to photobloggers to submit to the magazine, only reward was getting to be published in the book, and that was enough for people. Did similar things for Fray, and Moo do this as well, and it’s about taking that stuff back home where we really live, offline.

Rip that band-aid. Aug 15 2005, decided to merge Flickr ID with Yahoo ID. Waited 18 months before finally said that “in six weeks you have to do this”. Learnt that if you need to make a significant change to how you are doing business with a community that is difficult for some people to understand why, don’t wait 18 months to do it. People don’t like change. Give them six weeks, be there, be engaged, make the change and hold firm. You are going to have to do things that are unpopular. But the longer you wait the more painful it is. If we’d done it at the beginning, it wouldn’t have been so painful. Community was so much bigger 18 months later.

Community, manage thyself. Give people the tools they need so that they can manage the community for you. Sign of a healthy community is when people rise up and say that they would like to manage bits of the community themselves. If you craft in small bits of functionality, it allows people to establish what is appropriate for themselves, so what comments will you allow on y our photographs. Some people don’t mind swearing, others do, so if people self-moderate they can work out their boundaries for themselves. Obviously working within a wider set of community guidelines.

Communicate expectations. Lawyers and risk in this world has meant that whenever we join anything, there are pages of ToS, and some paras are in all caps, and the expectations of what your role is in that community. But people don’t read ToS. Flickr didn’t have community guidelines when it began, it was easier to telegraph that info member to member when it is a small community. So needed to find a way to take that high water line and put that into human readable format. Favourite line “Don’t be creepy. You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.” It was important to put that down in succinct way – four or five bullet points, that help people understand the expectation.

If you’ve got the job for policing the community for appropriateness, as a member, you never want to get scolded or booted for something no one ever told you about. Idea is to communicate expectations around usage. Later, at least they can say “we told you so”

Don’t create supervillains. In most Web 2.0 world, we have sites with free memberships, meaning anyone can come and create an account. Once you do that, the first community moderation tool you build is the “boot member tool”, and the person you boot creates another free account and this time they’re pissed off. When you boot people, you’re going to create supervillains. Instead, minimise the damage they do, work with them directly, and build tools around minimising damage individual members can make, design community so one person can’t do too much damage.

One site, if you get on their bad list, the site just gets slower and slower and slower for you. Because we’re used to that, the problem member doesn’t create a new account, they just get bored and go away. Don’t just boot trolls.

These people will just keep coming back and it’s unfortunate because people, members of your community are passionate, both good and… not so good. Amazing how engaged people become, and how much they want to participate.

Know your audience. Chevy Tahoe campaign, to make ad for Chevy, so you could pick from their video, photos, sound, etc., and could add your own text. Made ads which protested against the Tahoe. Lots of ‘off message’, but created a lot of attention. People rebelled because you couldn’t take your ad with you, it only existed in the Chevy universe, you couldn’t upload your sound or photos or video, so the constraints caused rebellion. Also, know your audience, they made a site for the entire internet, rather than say just Tahoe users.

Embrace the chaos. Whenever you create something where people have a voice, they are going to say things that you didn’t expect. Things will happen on your site that you didn’t expect.

A small computer in Vancouver had four computers stolen. One laptop had Photobooth, which was set to automatically upload photos to Flickr. So the company saw this dude with no shirt on, uploading pics of his tattoos to their account. Ran over all the web, media, etc., and Flickr could see his IP address and his phone number on his website, and busted him. He’s known to the police, and his lawyer saw his picture on Flickr, and told him to turn himself in.

When they launched geotagging, they were worried people would create a “porn island”. But instead if you went to Greenland, and someone had taken pictures and spelt ‘FUCK’ in little pink dots across Greenland. How you deal with that creativity, but when you build something, people will take it in different directions, and it’s how you engage with that.

Pet profiles on Friendster, created dog profiles, and in one weekend, Friendster wiped them all out. So that created an opening for Dogster and Catster. Sometimes when people misuse your site, they are telling you that there is a market, a need, an idea that you are missing. Misuse can be the best sources of ideas.

Q: How do you deal with proclamations from the Yahoo mothership?
Design for selfishness – people can share in several places, so why would they pick yours? So always focus on the benefits that the user will see. Use that to push back against edicts from above.

Q: How to you balance community and commerce
There’s a fable that community and commerce have to be separate, but it’s not true. You talk to your friends about commercial items. The trick is to do it in a way that benefits everyone, and be clear about the rules. JPG Magazine was very clear about what they were going to do with people’s stuff, and said that if they wanted to do anything else they would ask.

Give people options, e.g. free Flickr account with ads, and a Pro account that doesn’t have ads. People can make that choice. Expensive to run big communities, feeling from ’93/94 that the web is free, works until you have massive amounts of hardware, so find a way to balance it.

Q: Cultural issues. How do you deal with cultural conflicts?
If you have a global community, want to ensure people can express themselves. When I get uncomfortable is when it gets member-on-member, looking at abuse in terms of that, when it gets to specific stuff, that’s when I step in and try and do things. Have to determine what you are willing to deal with. What’s acceptable in the community. Key is having a ‘report abuse’ link, make it easy to say that this is right. Can start in aggregate data, what are people saying is or isn’t appropriate. Come down too hard, people won’t be happy. And there are some people who join communities just to be trolls, they love seeing people explode, so finding ways to mute the trolls or discourage them. How can you focus that particular conversation on something that is positive. If something is happens in a forum that is inappropriate, create a space for it, e.g. Mac vs. PCs corner.

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