Thoughts about CommunityNext and Conferences on Social Media in General: Is passion for community a requirement?

I've been remiss in writing my follow up post to CommunityNext.  First off, Noah Kagan did a fantastic job organizing this.  He had great speakers and the whole thing went off like clockwork, especially considering the ambitious schedule. 

The tough thing for me, though, was that I didn't quite get who the audience was.  I hung out with Fred and Brian (who treated us to bar substinance, btw...  very sneakily, too...  never got a chance to thank him), saw Stephanie... Tara spoke, and got to meet Anastasia and Frank...   and then I thought to myself...   Why are we all here?   I mean, are we all preaching to the choir?

Tara wrote in her post conference notes, "The audience, I guestimated, was more than half filled with people who
were asking the question, “How can I use community to make money
?” 

I have to admit, I didn't run into many, or any of these people for that matter.  Unlucky Tara.

Or maybe I'm just looking at these people differently.  Hell, maybe I'm one of them.  There are a lot of people out there who work for businesses that maintain communities....  so I guess they are "using communities to make money" or put another way, "are in the business of providing services that include communities".  Sounds a little bit different depending on the word choice and order, doesn't it?

To use another example, would you rather monetize a community or create a sustainable community...  because last I checked, its hard to sustain a community, grow and innovate without some dough.  Even Wikipedia is asking for money.  No one calls it monetizing, but that's essentially what they're doing...getting money from users.

And, that's just fine.   In fact, its more than fine.  Its fantastic that people are asking "How do I make money?"   Because, what is implied is that they're really asking, "How do I make money without totally pissing off all my users and having them disappear in a year?"

The way I see it, with no real barriers to entry and hardly any switching costs, in a wide open web, the big bad corporations and money makers should actually be aligned with users, no?  No users, no money.  More users, more money.  Get users by making something people want to use.  People are not idiots, they will only use useful stuff.

For all the MySpace bashing that went on at the conference and that I even do here, if MySpace didn't really provide any value to its users, it would cease to exist.  They'd all move over to Hi5 or back to Friendster.  A lot of the evangelists at CommunityNext cringe at the thought, but the reality is that it doesn't take passion to create community and it doesn't take care, concern, etc.  I think the people at MySpace care about community to the extent that it is a monetary decision and that seems to be working for them.

Why?  Because, you're not really creating community online.  Community was there.  People talked before blogs.  They found music before last.fm.  They had anonymous sex before Craigslist...um...  I mean... bought each others couches, or whatever.  There were garage sales before eBay.   Granted, online tools allow better expression of community and more explosive growth... more robust information exchange, and more efficient communication... People are social animals...   they started making the web social long before  the term social software came out.      In the end, all you really need is to put the tools of expression and connection in the hands of the people.

That's what MySpace did.  They gave people big dumb empty boxes and allowed us to throw whatever crap we wanted in there.  That's community.  We threw our thongs, our middle fingers and our bling in there...   and MySpace threw ads all over it.  Do people care?  They don't seem to.

Community?  MySpace is the Mott Haven to the Soho of our rich Flickr Web 2.0 life, but, gasp all you want, they're both thriving web communities. 

I think people are confusing passion for community with good product design.  Do the people at last.fm have passion for community?  I dunno... I don't know who they are or what they stand for, but the product rocks.  AIM, Skype...   Good products.  Passionate communities?  umm...  On the other side, a lot of people fail at community because their product just sort of sucks... its not because they lack passion.

Or look at what I'm up against in my area.  IAC has used paid advertising to get over 4 million people to register for the Zwinky avatars, which come with a lovely Ask.com search toolbar that installs itself all over your system.  Long after you abandon your Zwinky, the toolbar remains, generating search revenue for the company.  That kind of behavior should lead to a massive revolt by their community, no?  No... people continue to click and register everyday.

 

Show me a fantastic social product that went nowhere because the founders lacked passion for community.   

I guess what I'm saying is, while passionate founders and community caretakers definitely instill an authenticity and quality to their community...think Craigslist, Vimeo, etc...that hasn't shown itself to be a requirement, nor, unfortunately, an advantage.  Hopefully, though, when Voki arrives in March, we will use our passion to our advantage and you will see it in our usage, our content and in our marketing...and in the product itself.