December 26, 2005
Come On Baby, Light My Fire!
I build a lot of campfires during my summers in Maine. I always find that the most difficult part is getting the fire started. I generally start by lighting a match or a lighter (what great inventions!), which is relatively easy, but the next sequence of steps has several variants; sometimes lighting a Duraflame log, sometimes lighter fluid, and sometimes a combination of newspaper, dry leaves, twigs, and/or branches, until, finally, the logs start burning (the trick here is to add the type of material that will use the existing energy of the fire to light the next item and to have the next item slightly larger, such that it will give off more energy, then to light the next, slightly larger item, and so on). Using the accelerants (i.e., lighter, Duraflame, lighter fluid) always works best!
It seems to me that this observation on lighting a fire is very similar to getting a community and/or social site (or any other site where value grows with usage) started and then growing. if a site has a good enough set of features and a reasonable user interface, the site needs a starter-set of users. Once the site gets to its critical mass of users, the site’s fire is started, as the value created by the critical mass of users attracts a new set of users that will then add even more value to the next set of users. The ultimate size of the user-base depends on the number of people with continued interested in this particular site vs. other similar sites or other opportunities to use their time.
An Accelerant for building critical mass…
When new real-world social sites like nightclubs get started, they use accelerants such as paying models to come to the club, getting stars of various kinds to the club, making special invitations to connected people, staging an opening night, getting the PR machine humming, and hiring social people to invite their friends and to get the party going. (My take on internet dating sites is that they already do some similar things.)
So here is my question: Is it possible to build an online Community of Community Builders (CCB), say of 1,000 people (perhaps more, perhaps fewer, as it is not clear exactly how many people that you would need)? The goal of the CCB would be solely to select 2 or 3 online start-up communities that they would build at a time by being the accelerants for each of the communities. They would build the community for, say, the next six months or until each community fire was lit (using the appropriate measures for what “lit” means). Then, they would move on to the next community.
Think about taking a piece of land, putting up a downtown, putting up the first set of houses, and filling the houses with interesting people. When the next set of houses were constructed, wouldn’t the vibrant town center and the current community be attractive to you? Probably a lot more attractive than a set of vacant stores and houses!
Once the CCB got going, it might work this way:
- The CCB would invite online community developers to pitch their idea and demonstrate their site.
- The CCB would vote on the sites that it will support.
- A small group from the CCB would help work out the kinks in the site via use and feedback and get the site ready for prime time.
- The CCB users would open the opportunity to get involved to the entire group of interested CCB members (with ongoing feedback).
- Once the entire CCB community felt the site was ready, the CCB users would then invite their connections into the site (say 10 per member, which could get the community up to 10,000 relatively quickly if the site is interesting enough).
- Once this group seemed satisfied, the site could become open to the public (perhaps earlier, if appropriate).
- At this point, if the fire is going to start, it should start!
- Just as the accelerants of a real fire burn away, the CCB members can retract from the community as the community comes to life (or continue participating, if they continue to be interested).
Some additional thoughts:
- This approach seems like it would work better than the “build it and they will come” approach (which seems more like rubbing two sticks together in dry leaves to start a fire…It will succeed if you do it exactly right but, even if it works, it is a lot more work).
- Their would probably be a few “go/no go” decision points for the community to allow for bad ideas or bad execution.
- Clearly, the CCB would need to get started without the benefit of a CCB.
- It is not clear if the CCB would need to be more of a walled community or if a public forum would be better (I would opt toward the latter, as it could expand the CCB over time. However, members would probably need to do real community building work in order to continue as members.).
- The CCB would need to be large enough and heterogeneous enough to allow for a variety of different interests (and would still not cover all of the long tail opportunities).
- Perhaps after the CCB was successful in lighting a few communities, it might ask for a revenue share or equity allocation in future communities.
- The economic allocation to individual community members might be based on their relative contribution (with objective measures) to the development of the community (for example, their individual usage, the number of people that they successfully recruit and the number of people those people successfully recruit).
If someone is interested, please feel free to Innovate this! I volunteer to be your second member…