Notable passages from
Design for Community
by Derek M. Powazek
New Riders, Indianapolis, 2002
The users know the rules, too. They're not to flame each other or TiVo's competitors. Criticism of TiVo is allowed—even encouraged, so long as it's constructive—but no discussion of how to steal the service is allowed. These rules are communicated on a rules page, reiterated by the regular contributors, and enforced by Bott [David Bott, administrator of avsforum.com, an independent discussion site focused on home theater equipment].
In the end, the fact the board is not owned and maintained by TiVo has worked to its advantage. This way, when Bullwinkle [Richard Bullwinkle, webmaster for tivo.com] posts, he can always be the good guy. And when someone has to step in to be the authority, it's not Bullwinkle. It's Bott, who is not a TiVo employee.
By encouraging this community, TiVo is showing its customers that it cares about them and avoiding a consumer backlash. Not to mention the fact that it can keep close tabs on the community. TiVo now has its fingers on the pulse of its customers. It's first to know about the problems customers are having, the new features they're dreaming of, and even the hacks that have leaked out.
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Amazon is the undisputed leader in e-commerce now, and part of its success can be attributed to its community features.
Amazon started with the obvious: book reviews. If you can buy the book, why not let people review it, too? The response was amazing—people wrote thoughtful, interesting reviews, and far more than expected.
In watching this, Amazon learned a valuable lesson: People want to express themselves, and they'll do that in the context of products. In fact, it's sometimes easier for people to discuss products than themselves. In writing a review of a book, the user is being personal. He is telling the world: this is who I am, this is what I think. People communicate their identities in their review.
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Tip 1: Be honest. If your site is about selling widgets, don't pretend to be anything else. One of the reasons Amazon is successful is that it's not pretending to be something it's not. Even the naming is important here. Calling the section "Friends and Favorites" is a great idea—everyone has friends and favorites. But not everyone wants to join "The Great Amazon Community!" Get the difference?
This honesty is important in other areas, too. When users complained about certain aspects of the TiVo operating system in the AVS Forums, the TiVo programmers agreed and said, "We're going to fix that in the next update." This makes the users feel like they're on the inside, positively contributing to the product, and valuable to the process.
The fact of the matter is, commerce communities have to be extra careful. Users know that your bottom line is about making money, so they may greet community features with suspicion. Honesty is the best way to disarm a suspicious person.
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From an interview with Matt Williams, Amazon's Director of Community:
In building a vibrant community, the real challenge is allowing many different personalities, opinions, and perspectives to all co-exist in the most organized and engaging manner possible. Freedom of expression is a key ingredient. What that means is that we absolutely want members of the Amazon.com community to express themselves—it is not just a side effect. At Amazon, stating whether a product was simply good or bad is only part of the story. We enable people to discuss their experience of the product in the context of their own lives, because these expanded comments are interesting, entertaining, and more helpful to other customers.
A community in the simplest terms is a system of people interacting with one another. As I mentioned previously, self-expression is an important component of a vibrant community. At the same time, you also need to provide a reasonable amount of organization and structure. We accomplish this through a combination of efforts, some automated and others more manual. First, we rely heavily upon our community to self-police—for instance, through voting on whether a given review was helpful or not. Second, we employ many automated means for purging, filtering, sorting, and displaying reviews to the customer. Third, we manually screen a small cross-section of reviews prior to publishing them on the website. Underlying those three methods, we do have a set of policies and procedures, publicly published to our customers, which outline the expected behavior/language of members when participating in writing reviews. As the above methods indicate, preventing abuse is not always a simple matter; however, it is something that can be reasonably accomplished through setting rules/guidelines/policies and then enforcing them quickly when violations occur.
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