Friday, January 25, 2008

Content and Community

Two of Hagel's 3 C's of the web - Content and Community - are the cornerstone of all User Generated Content (UGC) sites. They are their biggest asset and at the same time their biggest liability - well, maybe not a liability but definitely a challenge.

I mean, think about it:

1. A UGC site's (social networks, blogs, etc.) value is solely predicated on the participation of its members.

2. In some instances like community dating or classified listings sites, there are two classes of users. Think of it like Supply & Demand. On a classified listing site you have those posting ads, but you also need a commensurate amount of people viewing those ads. Like on eBay - you need both buyers and sellers otherwise the site is worthless to both groups.

So here are the inherent difficulties with a model like this:

1. What's the value for an early adopter? In the beginning there's limited content on the site and limited community activity.

2. What if demand (eBays buyers) exceeds supply (eBays sellers) - or vice versa - in a dramatic way?

Those are the two challenges that face most User Generated Content sites.

Here's how TickerHound has addressed some of these issues in the early stages of our Beta period:

With respect to adding value to the early adopters, I've partnered up with - an investing and finance dictionary - basically, I've converted their word/definition items into question/answer records in my database.

So even if nobody is on the site we have a minimum number of questions and answers that at least cover the "ever green" type content (e.g. What's a stock option?, What's the dow jones?, etc.). That doesn't solve the community issues, but it certainly helps with the content (which could keep people there long enough to develop a community). So far it's proven to be fairly successful.

But the supply and demand issues are rough. Too many questions not getting answered and you have a lot of unhappy first time users...and they won't care how great the service "could" be, they'll just walk away. So I'm trying very hard to cultivate the community slowly:

- No intensive marketing just yet
- Writing a weekly newsletter highlighting certain members and their contributions
- Reaching out to "power members" individually to thank them and ask what else we can do to make their experience on the site better.

It's been working well and I'm going to continue doing many of these things as I go forward.

There are other issues that are beginning to creep up, however. Now I have to start thinking about SPAM issues - how can we effectively keep stock scams off the site as traffic begins to build? How do we quickly get SPAM off the site when it does appear? How do we evangelize our community so they'll also help police the site?

These are questions that I - and every other UGC site owner - has to answer if we hope to be successful. That's primarily why I decided to attend a meet-up on Tuesday that's going to be hosted by Cupid's Lab where some other NY tech entrepreneurs are going to meet and discuss some of the very issues I just raised.

Here's to reaching some conclusions on these issues!

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