The (non)Value of Open Communities

Many web companies significantly profit from the appearance that they are open, but anything of value eventually needs to have some limitations placed on it. In spite of no longer having MovableType installed on this server, the mt-comments file is one of my most requested files. Registration moves you away from The Tragedy of the Commons to something more sustainable.

Asking people to register suddenly makes them nicer because it makes the audience less robotic, and the most mean spirited people are not like to remain once anonymous disappears. It is harder to leave anonymous troll comments without being figured out if you have to create an account to post them. And who has time to set up 100 different accounts?

If you can sell a few people a day then you can also sell the idea of a free subscription with future bonuses to dozens or hundreds of people. It is easier to sell in small steps over time than it is to go from anonymous to sold. Pre-selling works so well because people not only learn to trust you, but they are already satisfied with your product BEFORE they purchase it. Some people ask me to do an in depth site review to try to sell them my ebook. I tell them that I do not do that because if they are not pre-sold on me then an exchange is likely going to be a mutual waste of time.

Exceptionally large communities are just as bad as anonymous communities because members have little in common, and relevancy rarely is aligned when everyone is the same. Without leaders a community is dominated by spam, poor communication, misunderstandings, and hate. I can't tell you how many porn messages I see browsing YouTube, and I just got this feedback on one of my videos:

No doubt this dude's got about 3/4 sugar in his tank. The "information" in the video is just more rehashed content available anywhere on the countless webmaster & marketing forums found all over the Web. Beyond the gay plagiarist guise, notice the example; seems we have a little Google/CNN toady here pushing THEIR brand not yours. Silly goy; he doesn't mention that all you need to be successful & dominate any industry is be a loyal satanic zionist. That's the true Google/CNN business model.

Posting the same information on my blog got much better feedback. And writing an article for Wordtracker got great feedback too. Why? Likely because I am relevant to their audience, and anyone who has subscribed to a free newsletter and clicked through to the web article likely wants to consume information.

Clay Shirky's A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy highlights many of the reasons that smaller communities are more meaningful and useful than large communities. If a site gets to the scale of a Google or a YouTube it must deal with endless spam. For most publishers it is best to be semi-porous, to get the benefits of being branded as being open, and allowing just about anyone to join or participate, but have some level of investment (time or money) required to do so in order to minimize noise.

Published: September 6, 2007 by Aaron Wall in marketing


SEO Junkie
September 6, 2007 - 7:36pm

In an uncontrolled environment, your best bet is to ignore such comments or criticism with a “Next one please?” attitude.;)

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