Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

they come for content and they stay for community

Everything I know about Web 2.0, I learned at AOL. I plunged in with the idea of bringing a magazine's worth of content every week to an audience the size of a daily newspaper, but I also knew that everything I'd done online personally had been about community, conversation and interaction. That a conversation could be distributed and asynchronous but as long as it engaged the mind and encouraged full responses rather than just the AOL joke(me too!) the medium mattered less than the message - although I also knew there were people I couldn't stand online who were great in person, so I tend to think online conversation supplements rather than replaces face to face friendship. Our highest traffic area was the download section - and building up UK libraries of individually uploaded files to replace the US content took a loooong time - and the gateways out to real Internet services. But the areas we built community around, with the help of the AOL volunteers and the odd special guest, where the ones that thrived. I'd be trying to explain it to people who'd heard Steve Case's 'content is king' mantra, which evolved into six 'c's I don't know if I can even remember and I found myself using the phrase 'they come for content and they stay for community'; if we couldn't have something new every day, every hour, every minute we could give them places to chat, real time or in message boards, with bouncers to deal with the trolls - and that's how we grew the audience.

At a certain point I found myself confronted with a bullying editorial director who declared that advertising is content too, and with the same US management team who'd dismantled the volunteer team in the US and realised I could no longer do the job I wanted to do there. But just as Simon built a blog-style CMS years before anyone else (and the equivalent of HP's Snapfish years before that too), I was doing social content over a decade ago.So I was slightly amused by the press release in my inbox today from UKFast announcing that 'Online Communities Sustain Paid-For News Model'. And that community has to have real content and real community; if the "better, more tailored promotions" suggested by someone called Mark Garner from a site I'm not familiar with Planet Confidential are advertising rather than content your profile says you're interested in they're straight into AOL, the eyeball years -  because advertising is NOT content like any other. Yes, magazines have always run sponsored features and advertorial, but it's clearly labelled and I believe all the readers can tell it apart from independent editorial - just as they know the difference between the salesperson in the shop recommending something and a friend saying how good their new camera is. It's about agenda as much as expertise...
Tags: advertising, business model, journalism, web 2.0, writing

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