Building the Community

As is the case for many web sites, the success of SpokenWord.org is dependent upon the participation of a community – one that doesn’t yet exist. Unlike our legacy channels (IT Conversations and Social Innovation Conversations) SpokenWord.org will not have a traditional top-down curatorial process managed by a small number of people with limited time and imagination. Instead we want to leverage the power of our community as individual curators. It’s all about members finding, recommending and sharing programs with one another. It’s not a new concept by any means. You can see it at SoundFlavor, Huffduffer, Collectik, Lala, the pioneering but now-defunct WebJay and of course Wikipedia.

Most of these sites also fit the model of submit->discover->recommend->share popularized by YouTube and Flickr. Imagine how diferent (useless) these services would be if a small number of people were the bottleneck for any one of those stages: submitting content, discovering the best content and sharing it with others. We’ve all seen the magic that occurs when anyone can submit, anyone can discover and anyone can curate and share with others. That’s our objective, too.

My current challenge is to understand which of the many tools make sense for SpokenWord.org. I’ve already implemented a few:

  • tagging (as in Flickr)
  • playlists/collections (as in WebJay and others)
  • RSS feeds for everything
  • explicit ratings (Amazon, Netflix)
  • badges (from StackOverflow.com)
  • personal profiles with avatars, links, resumés
  • comments
  • sharing (via ShareThis)
  • embeddable RSS readers and players

And here are some others I’m considering:

  • automated recommendations (from Loomia)
  • enhanced public profile pages (like Facebook)
  • MyPage (a place to get things done)
  • a better homepage design
  • a reputation system (like eBay or StackOverflow)

But so far it’s just that: a bunch of features thrown into a web site without any underlying sense of mission — sort of a kitchen-sink approach. I’ve been adding features as quickly as possible and haven’t even recruited a designer yet. Now it’s time to take a step back and look at the big picture.

These are just tools waiting for people to pick them up and put them to use. The unanswered question is what’s going to motivate those people? There are two (possibly overlapping) groups of people. First are (forgive me, Doc) the consumers: those who come to the site to find great recordings. These are the people we’ve learned a great deal about at IT Conversations. They need tools to quickly find and then organize the programs most relevant to them. The second group is relatively new to us: the curators. They’re the ones who are most important to the success of SpokenWord.org, for they’re the ones who replace the old-style top-down curators of traditional sites like IT Conversations, broadcast-media services, etc.

So what motivates and satisfies the curators? What does it take to make SpokenWord.org the Wikipedia of spoken-word recordings? Perhaps in that comparison I’m answering my own question. Perhaps it’s giving people a combination of pride in their contributions, a degree of power and control, and respect, reputation or whuffie.

What is the combination of features that will help build this community and how must the features be organized and presented in order to create the right environment to attract and retain the curators we need to make SpokenWord.org succeed? Specifically, what’s important from the second (to-do) list? What may not be important from among the features already implemented? And again, what about their presentation?

[Join the discussion we’ve started at http://groups.google.com/group/spokenword-strategy.]

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