Web 2.0 and Communities

The timing of this post, and the announcement by the Cherryleaf blog that they’ve created a Facebook group for technical authors, is completely coincidental. However there does seem to be a genuine move towards online communities, or perhaps it’s just the latest fad?

It’s an interesting time to be building an online community, and I’m lucky that I can pull from the past ten years or so that I’ve had an online presence.

When blogging first started there were few tools available, but in a short space of time they started cropping up all over the place and these days there are many different ways you can post to your blog (as well as many different ways/places to host it). The same seems to be true of the current rise of “social networking” sites.

Places like MySpace and Bebo focussed on the network surrounding one entity, whilst FaceBook and LinkedIn focus on central groups, and finally services like Ning allow you to build an entire specialised community which can then focus in on central areas of commonality.

I have a LinkedIn profile, a Facebook profile and I’m a member of a Ning community, and for me they represent different things. Ohh and please don’t be offend if I don’t “friend” you on any of those websites, I do try and keep that sort of thing under control.

For me LinkedIn is, in essence, a smart contact manager that allows me to find other people related to previous places of employment or study, whereas Facebook is something I dip in and out of and which I primarily use to keep in touch with friends and other personal/social goings-on. Ning, specifically the Content Wrangler community, is very much focussed on my profession and is a good way to interact with my peers across the globe.

I’m wondering if my perception of these sites are common? The reason I ask is that whilst creating a group on Facebook or LinkedIn is very easy, perhaps the usage of such sites needs to be considered. There has been a lot of chat about companies starting to “lever” these websites, alienating users/customers. So it definitely isn’t just me that has a fixed idea about for what these websites should be used.

I’m in the midst of trying to build an online community for the technical users of our product, and I’m very conscious of the unwritten rules and presumptions that go hand in hand with how people act online, and which boundaries need to be respected. It’s a balancing act, that’s for sure, but a fascinating one.

A phrase I spotted online the other day rings true: “someone hit them with the Web 2.0 stick”. I’m a big fan of Wikis, blogging and online communities, and I think they offer some excellent ways to be part of the conversation, but perhaps we all need to step back a little and make sure that the tools we are using are the right ones for the job.

2 comments

  1. “I’m in the midst of trying to build an online community for the technical users of our product.”

    I’m in the same situation. I want to create a community for my users. I’ve run into some challenges with software — my users are all behind a corporate firewall, which also restricts PHP and MySQL solutions, so SharePoint 2007 is the only authorized tool I can use.

    I interviewed Alan Porter about how WebWorks is using different Web 2.0 communities. I’ll publish that podcast on Monday. It seems like they had the most success with wikis, but they have forayed into Linkedin, Facebook, blogs, wikis, and other areas.

    I think SnagIt’s Visual Lounge and forum are successful examples of Web 2.0. Certainly having a good blog that shows active content, with tips and tricks, troubleshooting, and other useful, energetic information is a good step in the right direction. I don’t really see the social networks or other social networks doing a whole lot because it requires too much initiative and contribution from users. For all the hype about Facebook, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do in there.

    Tom

  2. I’ve gotten a bit overloaded on networking sites. I’m fairly restrictive about my contacts on LinkedIn, but much less so on Plaxo and Ning.

    I agree with Tom that Web 2.0 doesn’t necessarily add much to building online community, especially among product users. People were doing this way back in the 20th century with mailing lists and online forums. What builds community is give-and-take, and people helping each other out. The technology that supports that is secondary.

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