Rich Gordon, writing for the Readership Institute makes some important points about online community.
One key reason is that media companies have the “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” problem. These companies consider themselves to be content publishers, so they’ve seen the Web primarily as a publishing medium. It’s people and companies unencumbered by a publishing mindset that have built the great online community sites such as MySpace, YouTube, Slashdot, and eBay (a community site as well as an auction site).
But if you’re a community news publisher, you’re not running a content company — you’re running a community company. I first said this at an API conference two years ago: Community newspapers are the glue that bind communities together. It’s all about connections. This stuff is in our DNA. We should be able to do it well.
But . . .
Another problem for publishing is an unwillingness to devote real resources and expertise to online communities. News organizations seem to think that content creation is the only job worth devoting staff time to. But enabling story comments or establishing message boards isn’t enough. Communities, online or off, need staff attention. Without one or more people to provide leadership, guidance, support, and a willingness to respond to or delete off-topic or hostile comments, many online communities lie barren or descend into name-calling and profanity.
If we saw our job more about community building and less about repurposing town council agenda items, it would fundamentally change how we do our jobs, and what kind of Web sites we build.
As they say, read the whole thing.
As a point of disclosure, Rich is working on a project for the NAA NMF audience development committee, which I chair.