Community & Control
I started at Flipboard last week and one of the traditions I’ve already grown to appreciate are the brown bag lunches. Friends from other start-ups come to talk about topics they’re passionate about.
Something I’ve missed about living in the Bay Area is trading start-up war stories - that’s how you learn how as an entrepreneur, outside of making those mistakes yourself! Lucky me, I caught the week with Caterina Fake, the queen of these stories (and random fact: she is also the progenitor of ‘FOMO’). Our conversation centered around how Flickr’s community got started and grew to be one of the first successful ones online.
I boil it down to control - how much you dictate, suggest, and leave up to your community.
Your community is defined by what you encourage…
Caterina said the two big features for Flickr that opened the flood gates were (1) making photos public as default and (2) allowing sites to embed photos. Such a simple concept but so powerful - encourage the activity you want by making it super easy, default and shareable. You also encourage by leading by example. At the beginning, everyone at Flickr wrote comments back to the community and the rule was they had to say something meaningful - something they would say as participants, not as Flickr staff. This set the tone. I know most Flickr folks of yore and they are all super passionate about photography. They were a huge part of the community and kick-ass photographers too! (the anti-Charles Barkley, I’m not a role model rule)
…and what you tolerate
The tough side of community is how you deal with the ugly. Caterina was adamant about pulling the weeds and doing it from the get-go. Communities devolve quickly so you have to be vigilant and encourage users to be involved in maintaining the community. (the broken windows rule)
… and users will always surprise you
You will never know what your users will do until they use it, for worse and for better. Flickr is the classic example of this. It was a failed game that had photo sharing as a feature. When that feature became overwhelmingly popular, they thought, ‘maybe this is something’. (I call this the kid with a box rule. Give a kid a present wrapped in a box and you’ll get a fort or a spaceship or a house for Optimus Prime back <— real example, courtesy of my nephews).
My major takeaway is that we are at the very beginning of this. Flickr, The Well, etc sound like ages ago, but in reality, we are still solving, resolving, refining a lot of the same problems with social software today. The idea of community is much more nuanced, complex, and rich then what we see on the interwebs.
It’s a great reminder as I kick off at Flipboard. The synapses are throwing off sparks.