Thursday, February 14, 2013

Online Communities: Entropy Increases..Are You Seeing The Cracks?

This is a post I wrote on and about the online platform Quora, on which I am active and frankly I'd like to see succeed. Since the day this post was originally made Quora has instituted some important changed which address the issues in this article. In that case, it is rendered thankfully moot. Nonetheless, I believe this information has value in an of itself. While the post specifically related to Quora, the point I want make here is that Entropy Increases on Communities, as it does everywhere else. Watching MySpace flailing to regain relevance pains me, not because My Space is inherently bad, but because it's over. It had its time, it was really popular and now it's done.  But  could it have managed to retain relevance longer? How is it that Facebook is managing to do so, where MySpace never could? Read this and join me again at the end:

This winter marked my 2nd anniversary here on Quora. My second year was filled with some amazing things - answers being reproduced over at Huffington Post and Forbes, being named Top Writer. I've connected with amazing people here and really have enjoyed all my time on Quora.

I'm not leaving or anything, but when I (and all of you) come up on that moment, here will be the reasons why:

1) Taking away our sovereignty over our own content.

Several Quora community members have said this plainly and - for whatever reason - Quora is not listening.

If Quora makes it impossible to share the content we create on Quora, then we will create it somewhere else.

I don't know how to say this more plainly. Quora is going to see good writers take their content away from the platform, not because we don't love Quora but because we love creating good content. And we want people to read it. I wrote something great this week, but I have not shared it on Twitter or Facebook because those of my friends who might very well appreciate it cannot see or read or share it themselves unless they are sign up to Quora. Do you sign up to every site just to read a paragraph or two of good content? I don't. I wouldn't ask my friends to, either.

2) The upvote-to-view algorithm ignores the 80/20 rule of all online communities

Ariel Williams wrote an amazing post today: How promotion can reduce an answer ranking... With an actual case example.

How much more/better can it be said that requiring votes to views is punishing the best writers? Good heavens, have none of you ever lurked on a community before? Plenty of people read, think and lurk and VERY FEW comment or engage. You're requiring the best writers to prove, then prove again and again that they are worthy. And you're handicapping them by making it easier for people to see their content here on Quora, which penalizes them.

Here are the first major cracks in Quora. Do nothing if you wish, but entropy increases.

Here is my point for today  - No community fails without warning. Breaches of security, privacy, sovereignty and trust do not happen in a vacuum. Your users will first whine, then complain, then create petitions/boards attempting to notify you that changes are unwanted and unwelcome. Then, when enough of them are fed up, the exodus begins. The drain is slow at first, and it's easy to label those who leave with negative terms. But when top users  are telling you there are problems and you as community manager/owner are not listening...what do you expect will happen?

On MySpace, users were thrown under the bus for advertisers. The layout became loud and cluttered with ads that did not provide additional value for users. The main reason why Facebook is not yet already fading into obscurity is that they have so far failed to create a functional platform for advertisers. When they do, people (other than those who ran to Google+ to get away from their mothers) will find somewhere else to post their cat pictures.

Whether you run a hobby community or a product community, Entropy Increases, but not invisibly. Cracks appear in walls, voice are raised in protest. When you fail to notice the issues or address them it's not the user base you have to blame.

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