Thursday, August 02, 2007

Common Pitfalls of Building Social Web Applications and How to Avoid Them, Part II

Joshua Porter continues the discussion about building social Web apps ...

"In the last several years we've seen the rise and fall of many social web applications. While most of our attention gets paid to the hugely successful ones like YouTube and Facebook, we can also learn a lot from those that have failed. Here are some more of the common pitfalls that lead to failure when building social web applications. (Read the first part of Common Pitfalls of Social Web Applications and How to Avoid Them.)
5) Not Appointing a Full-time Community Manager

No matter how prescient your designers and how well thought out your design strategy, there is no way to design a perfect social web site that doesn't need ongoing management. Yet, some social start-ups fail to recognize this and launch their app without a designated caretaker. The result is a slow failure...the worst kind of failure because it’s not immediately apparent that it’s happening.

In any decent social app, use and users are always changing, always adapting and pushing the limits of your software. So as Matt Haughey, founder of Metafilter, says in his excellent Community Tips for 2007, "Moderation is a full-time job."

The success of many social start-ups proves this to be true. Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield, when asked about making online communities work, admitted there is no silver bullet, but added:

"A lot of our success came from George (Oates), the lead designer, and Caterina (Fake). Both of them spent a lot of time in the early days greeting individual users as they came in, encouraging them and leaving comments on their photos. There was a lot of dialogue between the people who were developing Flickr and their users to get feedback on how they wanted Flickr to develop. That interaction made the initial community very strong and then that seed was there for new people who joined to make the community experience strong for them too."

Stewart's description is exactly how George described it to me when I met her at SXSW. She could not over-emphasize the value of her and Caterina spending so much time with users...24 hours a day greeting them, showing them how to use Flickr, and generally saying "Hi." It was clear to her that a huge part of the early success of Flickr resulted from that personal attention, that personal connection that someone on the other end cares about what’s going on. A full-time community manager is crucial to providing this level of attention.
6) Not Building Archived Knowledge

When your social app begins to grow and you start to attract more and more new people to the fold, you begin to see trends in their initial confrontation with the software. The same issues crop up repeatedly. People have the same problems over and over again and the community manager spends more and more time answering the same questions.

For example, uploading that first batch of photos might be intimidating for those folks who have never done it before. Let's imagine they all run into the same problem: how do you get photos out of iPhoto and into your Flickr account? There are certain steps to do this, but it is not entirely clear, especially if you've never had to export pictures out of iPhoto before."    (Continued via UIE)    [Usability Resources]

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