Invisible communities. Chris Heathcote LIFT 2011Whilst everyone talks about Facebook as the largest community, I want to talk about someother communities that are overlooked.
Usenet.The history of the Internet is the history of communities.Usenet sprang out of bulletin board systems - the ﬁrst notion of Internet communities ofstrangers with shared interests, dialling into a shared space2001 - 500 million messages (google buys Dejanews)still going, but not really used for talking any morethe best Usenet groups either met in real-life, or did something together - both things that keptthe groups as real communities - if you want to see the extent of this google for alt.fan.lemurs -not only one of the funniest groups, it raised a lot of money for the Duke University PrimateCenter..
Mailing lists.at the same time as Usenet grew in popularity, so did mailing lists - these were often privateand sometimes invite-only.1999 - egroups alone - 13 million users - 1.3 billion messages a month
Web forums. Vbulletin, phpBB & discuz.web-based message boards took over from Usenet and mailing listsvbulletin is 1.4% of all websites on the Internet - bigger than bloggerphpBB is 0.4% - bigger than Typepad and TumblrDiscuz is 0.4% (Japanese forum software)(blogger is 0.7%, Typepad 0.1%, tumblr <0.1%)Gaia Online, an mmorpg, has a forum system to talk about anything - not just the game - 23million members, 1.9 billion messages.These communities are where an awful lot of knowledge is stored on the Internet.
On the web, but sometimes invisible.No central index, ofter content is limited to members- invisible to Google, and thereforeinvisible to the web.Boards are often shared by word-of-mouth, and thereʼs no central identity system - you are adifferent identity on each.
Mobile games in Japan. Gree & Mobage-town.Japanese sites offering mobile phone games - have become large communities themselves -22 million users each - these are considered the biggest barriers to Facebook
Not the typical homepage of an online community.The New York Times wrote “One trait those sites have in common is crucial to Japanʼs ﬁercelyprivate Internet users. The Japanese sites let members mask their identities, in distinctcontrast to the real-name, oversharing hypothetical user on which Facebookʼs business modelis based.Japanese Web users, even popular bloggers, typically hide behind pseudonyms ornicknames.”
iPhone communities.Now weʼre seeing communities based around apps on smartphones
Korean messaging apps. Kakao Talk & WhatsApp.some of the most popular apps in Korea - person to person and small group messaging - free -(and cheaper than SMS)KakaoTalk - 4 million users in 9 monthson these, your phone number is your identity
pretty similar feature sets, but WhatsApp started charging 99c for the app - so the userbaseis moving.These 3rd party messaging apps spring up in every country and language - mainly becausetheyʼre cheaper (ad supported) - these are not the universal ubiquitous messaging systemslike the Internet or mobile phones.
Group image sharing. Path & Instagram.Path and Instagram create small group sharing for photos - with little presence on the web,other than when shared.
Instagram in particular feels more private than it actually is - they leak into other socialnetworks, but feel private as theyʼre just on your personal device
Of the Internet, but not of the web.these communities exist on the Internet, but not how weʼd traditionally view it - through a webbrowser
Unexpected communities. Grindr.communities can emerge in the strangest placesGrindr is a gay dating app for iPhone and BlackBerryover 1 million users - 75,000 in London
(as an aside, itʼs oddly prudish - to conform with Appleʼs terms and conditions)Itʼs location based - and thatʼs the extent of the UIyou turn it on, and it displays the closest 100 peoplethereʼs no ʻnormalʼ login, your phone is your identity (contrast with gaydarʼs app)thereʼs no way to change where you are and the people you see - itʼs using your actuallocation as the only inputThe founder says that it should minimise the time to meeting in real life.Its limitations in functionality are part of its success....
almost no proﬁlea picture, a few lines of text, a few stats - thatʼs alland the actions are limited - favourite, block or chat
A community despite its original intentions.What struck me was that people stay on grindr all day, every day. People use it when theyʼrebored to chat as much its original purpose - even though itʼs designed not to facilitate long-term communication.It also gained enough momentum, at least in the UK, in a really odd way - Stephen Frydemoing it to Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear - over 30,000 downloads that nightMy question is - whatʼs going on, what can we learn from it?
To try and get a sense of whatʼs going on, I did some data spelunking, taking a sample of datafrom London. Just because things arenʼt on the web, doesnʼt mean theyʼre really private.My ﬁrst thought was to map it, in some way. A map is the hello world of data.This is a map of London on a Saturday night (the tube stations), showing the averagedisclosed weight of users near each point. Maybe not that interesting, but even here thereʼssome stories.
And this is taking all the words in the proﬁles... One odd word that sticks out is ping -
PingChat.this refers to another iPhone community/chat app - itʼs easier to manage long-term chats inPing than in grindr itself (and itʼs cheaper than SMS).People ﬁnd a way round problems or limitations to let them talk, and keep talking.
Even dating becomes a community.so even dating, supposedly a solitary endeavour, can become a community
Gaydar.Gaydar started as a dating site, now operates several communities, radio stations, bars... itswebsite gets as much trafﬁc as Tesco, with 5.2 million registered users. The radio station has alistenership of 2.2 million - but struggles on mobile, both because it has a legacy of standardlogins, and it charges more for mobile use.
People will talk about anything.weʼre lucky - people like to talk, especially about their interests and experiences, hobbies andniches.
Go where the people are.In fact, chances are, people are already talking about what you want to talk about. Doescreating a new community make sense? How can you use existing places better?And on the ﬂip side - if you have a place where a lot of people are doing something - does itmake sense to create a community around this?
People don’t want their identities tied together.the ease and showing-off of Facebook may be appropriate in some cases, but not alleveryone has some slightly uncool hobby or interest...So separate usernames, proﬁles and avatars are key needs for many people - even usingGoogle or Facebook Connect as part of the sign-in process will keep people away
Let people communicate in private.As well as the conversations in public, people need to be able to split off and have sideconversations - most web bulletin boards allow private messaging as well as forum posting.
Moderate with personality.the forums that succeed are often run by someone whoʼs passionate about the subject andwants to know more. theyʼre a known face, with a real name, and their management isconsidered in good faith.Forums like metaﬁlter can keep going because of the strong identity of moderators.
Watch what’s happening.Most communities havenʼt got a Danah Boyd or a sociologist to tease out whatʼs really goingon and look for interesting stories. Itʼs also hard for those outside to gain a large enough viewof the community. Pointing at interesting stories shows the community that itʼs alive andkicking, and worthwhile continuing to contribute.
“Get them to like each other.” - RushkoThis applies especially to commercial entities running communities:Douglas Rushkoff in his book Program or be programmed says“Where there are people, there will be conversations.... Instead of looking to monetize orotherwise intercede between existing social connections, those promoting networks should belooking to foster connections between people who are as yet unknown to each other yetpotentially in need of each other. And then let them go about their business—or theirsocializing.”This has to be the key idea when creating and managing a community - “The content is not themessage, the contact is. The ping itself.” - If people like each other, theyʼll keep on talking.