let the community set you free!

i’ve been following the social web since before it became fashionable to do so. the one thing that i’ve found most appalling+ over the past 3 years is that almost none of the socially driven or community-based web 2.0 ventures have really understood the importance of the community and how to leverage it to their advantage (apart from purely participatory purposes). while the example works for pretty much any product or service with an actively participating community, let’s use the example that most of you are going to be familiar with–that of digg.

every single active member of the site is in a way an employee of the site that is working for free (in monetary terms). these members work for free because they get paid in the form of an experience. the users can submit, share, vote on, and comment on stories they find interesting, as well as connect and converse with like-minded users on the site. however, the users aren’t always happy with the number of options they are given or how they can use these features and are always looking to improve their experience on the site, which they can only do by improving the site itself.

when these users see a problem or a glitch, they report it, and sometimes even present possible solutions. they react similarly when they see a feature being abused or think that a feature hasn’t been implemented properly. furthermore, when the community sees that the platform is lagging and needs to be updated (as in the case when they demanded that digg add a specific section on the sites to handle images, improve search, and so on) they voice their concerns. their concerns, however, often fall on deaf ears. sometimes this is because the people behind the platform are busy with other things, but i honestly believe that most often this is simply because most web 2.0 companies don’t have enough faith in their communities and believe that they know better which direction they should to take the platform in.

contrary to what you would expect from these socially driven and community-oriented services that are built on the very principles of collaboration, these companies still function in a very hierarchical and inflexible manner. web 2.0 companies are in a very unique position. their very nature should keep them on the cutting edge of innovation and keep them flexible enough to adapt to change speedily and efficiently. what completely confounds me is that instead of taking advantage of their position, these companies work function like the bloated and inefficient corporations of 1970’s america.

as surowiecki so clearly explains in his book, the wisdom of crowds,

…attempting to run an entire company by command and control is a futile task. it’s too costly in terms of time; it requires far too much information–information that top executives would not be bothering with; and it saps the initiatives of workers and managers. when coordination takes place inside a company without being dictated by top-down leadership, it has the potential to make the company as a whole lighter and more flexible. but that can’t happen when power is concentrated at the top of a company…

how such a structure would come about in a traditional company is completely understandable though not justifiable. why it still happens in web-based enterprises today is completely baffling. the community is here to serve you, pay attention and delegate.

this post is a part of my journey through james surowiecki’s the wisdom of crowds.

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3 thoughts on “let the community set you free!

  1. Asad Akbar

    It seems that while social media companies have the audience there giving them feedback, they are hesitant as to whether they should except it or not. There are so many people giving their feedback that it becomes hard to see if the feedback is the collective will or a few vocal people screaming, whose advice if a company took could damage the company for the silent majority. Keep in mind many of these companies have users that just participate and dont offer feedback, because they are happy or lazy. Understanding which type of feedback the company is dealing is something I think we havent been able to figure out yet.

  2. SWATJester

    You’re forgetting Wikipedia. Wikipedia is entirely driven by its community. Its emails are answered by community members. Its press interviews are given by community members. Its interface is designed by community members. Its annual conference is designed and run by community members. I’d venture to say that Wikipedia is the ONLY Web 2.0 company that actually cares about its community.


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