Here are my live notes of this Future of Web Apps (FOWA) session with Heather Champ and Derek Powazek. They are probably incomplete and may contain mistakes, though I do my best to be accurate. Chances are I’ll be adding links to extra material later on, so don’t hesitate to come back and check. See Derek’s post about this, and Suw’s notes of this session.
Chelm Sweet Chelm
Angels, trying to distribute something (?), and one of the sacks ripped and the contents spread out in the valley, and that valley became the town of Chelm (idiots). steph-note: sorry, very confused, wasn’t concentrated.
So, lots of stories around that. When you run a community site, you sometimes feel like you are living in Chelm. How can you make the most of your life in Chelm?
Heather and Derek are going to tell us some Chelm stories.
Derek will tell the first one, because it’s embarrassing to Heather’s employer.
Yahoo including photos tagged “wii” in a page. But you don’t really tell anybody about it. Users revolt: start tagging all sorts of things “wii”:
Heather: being the mothership, you’re always held to higher standards by your community. Do the right thing, beyond the legal requirements. Yahoo had the right to do this, but that didn’t make it “right”.
Derek: provide copious opt-outs.
Heather: last year, Flickr realised they were going to have to take the DB down (it was bad). So they decided to turn it into a contest instead of just displaying the “massage” message. Something like 2000 different entries. People responded really well. Gave away something like 16 Pro accounts instead of the 1 they had planned.
Derek: when you fucked up, say you fucked up. Confess. You can earn a lot of credibility like that. When you suck, own up.
Other example: FOWA sending out marketing e-mail to the “wrong list”, the ones who had opted out. “We screwed up!”
Don’t keep score. Here are the top… can be a really excellent way to motivate people when you’re playing a game. But with most web apps, it’s not about playing a game, it’s about sharing your photographs, telling stories… Use these scoreboards when you want to play a game. Otherwise it can actually work against your community.
Heather: Flickr interestingness. This is the only place in the Flickrverse where people are ranked. It was pretty bad when they launched (500 most…). It created aggravation and angst. Now it’s a randomly loaded page.
Derek: the goal of interestingness is to see some interesting photos. The error was showing them in a ranked order. “Hey, look how many photos are more interesting than mine!” Gaming behaviour can lead to a negative experience. (e.g. people trying to get to the front page of digg.)
Use scores where they make sense.
Heather: important to put an editorial layer on the “stuff”. “Contribute a photo of your day”: 20’000 people in the group, 7000 contributed photos, and 122 selected to be in the book. One way of bringing people to the forefront and rewarding them in a more collaborative way than just ranking.
Derek: producing print stuff is often seen as a money-maker. But actually, providing physical real-life things is actually a great motivator to encourage people to participate in your online community. JPEG Mag. Great photographers online, but never seeing anything in print. Getting published in the book was enough to get people motivated to participate in the virtual community.
Rip that band-aid (Heather): the old skool merge thing. Flickr knew at some point they would have to migrate everyone to Yahoo IDs. Waited 18 months, and at some point… it’ll be in 6 weeks. Significant change that’s difficult for the community: don’t wait 18 months. 6 weeks is a good time. Discuss about it, answer people, but then do it, hold firm. Sometimes you have to do things that are unpopular. If Flickr hadn’t waited 18 months… would probably not have been that painful.
Derek: community, manage thyself. Give people the tools they need so that they can be the community manager for you. Build tools to support that. In Flickr: I manage comments for my own photos. It’s my spot, so I’m my own community manager. Heather: it allows people to establish the guidelines for themselves.
Community expectations: Heather loves lawyers. Pages and pages of terms of service. Expectations of what your role is to be in that community. Flickr didn’t have community guidelines when it began. At some point, they understood they needed a way to put those expectations in human-readable format. “Don’t be creepy. You know the guy. Don’t be that guy.” 4-5 bullet points. Doesn’t supercede the TOS, but helps make expectations understood. Understand that nobody reads those legalese TOS.
Derek: don’t create supervillains. We usually have sites with free membership. Anybody can create an account. First community moderation tool: “boot member”. But the booted member can come back, create another free account, but this time he’s pissed. Booting people creates supervillains. Come up with clever ways to minimize their damage, contact them directly, person-to-person. Design community so one person can’t make too much damage. E.g. one site, if you get on their “bad list”, the site just gets slower and slower for you. That’s clever!
Heather: members of your community are passionate. Passionately good, and passionately… passionate.
Derek: know your audience. Eg. Tahoe thing: create your own ad. But actually, all you could do was actually add some text. So they went wild, of course. Be careful how tiny the box is you put people in. Here it was tiny, people rebelled. You couldn’t do much. Constraints are good, but if there are too many, people rebel. Also, their site was available to everybody on the internet, not just Tahoe owners.
Last and most important lesson: embrace the chaos. When you create something where people have a voice, they’ll do something you don’t expect.
Heather: small company which had 4 computers stolen, one of the laptops had PhotoBooth set up to upload automatically to Flickr. Some dude with astounding tattoos unwittingly uploaded PhotoBooth photos to the company’s Flickr stream. “OMG, this could be the guy who got our computer!” To cut a long story short, this guy was “known to the police”, and his lawyer saw a piece about this in the local paper, and told him to turn himself in… which he did.
Ex: person who used geolocating photos to spell “fuck” over Greenland. Lots of hard work there!
Incorporate these things as you go forward.
Derek: pet profiles on Friendster, which they wiped out in a week-end! Created a business opening for Dogster/Catster. When people misuse your site, they’re telling you there’s something to do there. Sometimes the misuse is the most valuable input you can get.
Q: how do you deal with requirements from the mother company regarding the way you manage your community?
A (Heather): not much has “come down”. Often, the answer is education. Talk to people — lots of misguided “requirements” come from the fact they don’t really understand your community.
Derek: design for selfishness.
Q: How do you balance community with commerce?
A (Derek): fable that community and commerce have to be separate, but that’s wrong. We talk about “commerce” a lot with our friends (products, etc). JPEG: been very upfront about “what we’re doing with your work”, “what you get out of it”. Set expectations well in the beginning.
Heather: two kinds of Flickr accounts. Pro, you don’t see ads. Is it worth the money for user X? Running a community costs money. Somebody has to pay for it. “The web is free”: to a certain extent, but when it involves huge amounts of hardware, somebody has to pay for it.
A (Heather): if you have a global community, you want to ensure that people can express themselves — but when it gets member-on-member, that makes her uncomfortable (abuse). “What’s acceptable in the community?” Have a “report abuse” link in the footer of every page of the site. If you come down too hard saying “you can’t say that”… Trout-slapping. Huge question. Some people join communities just to be trolls.
Derek: if something inappropriate is happening in a global forum, create a place where it’s appropriate, and send people there to discuss it, so the rest can get on with their lives.