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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My take-away from the Online Community Unconference

I was at the Online Community Unconference today (#OCU2009 on Twitter), and this is a first braindump after the event:

- the main concerns expressed by community managers there at the beginning of the event were: what metrics to measure the health of a community? how to get people to engage more? how to get quality content?

So it seems that a lot of people there were still in the learning phase when it comes to managing online communities.

- also of note, a very strong presence from the Yahoo team, looking for answers on how to manage herds of "passionate" (or did they say "angry"?) users when you are planning to shut down a service

From the sessions, it was clear to me that we are still in the very early days of the web as a communication platform:

- People are struggling with discussions that are scattered, the distribution of the content is easy and wide, but cannot really be controlled and it is not easy to track where the discussions are happening around that content once it has gone outside of its original published space.

- Individuals have mixed feelings about their online profiles, and how to fit their personal life next to their professional life.

- And finally it is not clear where all this is going as we have not gone through a complete cycle. There is still a lot of "new and exciting" effect on Twitter for example, along with user's fatigue for some of the early adopters.
One person mentioned how she twitted about renting a GM car this morning to go to the conference and got 2 tweets back: one from the rental agency and one from the GM product manager for that car. While it is a great story, how long can this last that the PM for the car can actually track you down to talk to you when you tweet?
So the value we see today may not be sustainable over time.

For me, I see 2 trends:

- on one side, people realize the value of the wide distribution of content, through the many services that we know: Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, etc... It allows access to info that would not be available otherwise, and it gives a voice to stakeholders that could not be heard before. They also realize that since there are many of these services, plus blogs, plus forums, we have to deal with a distributed network of people and content, and this is not going to stop anytime soon. We need technology (at the infrastructure level) to better manage these distributed networks.

- on the other side, information overload combined with the fact that there is only 24 hours in a day forces users to limit over time what they pay attention to. The key then is to find the lens you should use: group of key people you follow and interact with. So to manage better what we pay attention to, we have to move towards a closed network - closed as in: limited to people we trust, whether it is at the personal level or at the content level. We need technology (at the personal level this time) to better manage these closed networks (lenses).

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