More on community…

Despite what I said about the servers yesterday, Rudius does a lot of stuff really well, especially community. And what Tucker did here is the perfect example.

Chasing Kaz is slowly evolving from a blog about two guys weighlifting to a community about strength, improvement and fitness. The Alexa rank doesn’t reflect it, but the forum has threads with 20,000 and 30,000 views and discussions that run for pages. Now users can post running diaries of their workout regimen and other people can give advice or criticize.

Hosting dozens of workout logs for strangers probably wasn’t what Tucker had in mind when he launched his site 4 years ago. I still have some of the initial emails from when Chasing Kaz got started and no one brought up anything remotely close to that idea. But this is where it went–it’s what the people wanted and I think it is a natural progression for the site.

Rudius won’t make much money from the work out log forum. When someone logs on to post their stats, they aren’t looking for ads–they’re just trying to complete a task. But in the long run, every time someone does it, they are just a little more tied to the brand. They’ve transitioned from a consumer to a prosumer and that connection is harder to break. It’s harder because it’s meaningful, because the users have invested something other than just time.

In contrast to the Hollywood side, where The Agency owns a site with about the same traffic as Tucker and one of the managers keeps insisting on finding sites to merge or acquire. First, in the corporate world, mergers have an awful track record but online? I can’t wrap my head around how that would even work. We shouldn’t be thinking about acquiring a larger audience but rather how to become better connected with the one you already have. Which again highlights the two different, deeply innate approaches to value. One wants superficial relationships and the other wants concentrated, intense connections. It’s not stupid to think like that–“Let’s get more, more, more”–but it is a massive strategic error. Just because something is intuitive doesn’t mean it will work online. Because one morning you’re going to wake up and everyone will have run off to the next site, where they’re treated better, where they feel pulled to, where their life becomes intertwined into the creative process.

In my view, Facebook made the same mistake. They had a chance to grow up with the Y Generation. They could have evolved with that 9 million person userbase (and rising) and had a lock on it forever. I don’t think you could have asked for a more profitable and long-term niche than the social lives of American college students (and eventually, their business and personal lives), but that wasn’t enough. Instead they decided to spread to an numerically larger but significant less loyal demographic and now, the future isn’t looking so rosy. If Myspace was Krispy Kreme–a hot niche commodity that leveraged their buzz to flood the market and then was forced to retreat–Facebook could have been In and Out–an autonomous and principled to their core and have lines out the door at 1 in the morning. Now the core audience is alienated, the new audience has a sense of entitlement and the infrastructure is straining under the weight of thousands of applications, requests and spam-profiles.

So that is the dilemma that companies ultimately face online. The smart people are building community and a deeper relationship whenever they can. The people stuck to the old model think that what they really need is as many eyeballs as possible. If your strategy online is to “write something I care about and then get as many people to read it as possible” then you’re doomed to fail. You’re just dressing up the old model in digital form. The internet has succeeded precisely because that model is flawed and like Hugh said, it continues to exist so long as there are “young, hungry people willing to take the pyramid/privilege model seriously.” The future, online, is there for those who think differently–strategically–who create value that propagates itself instead of stealing it before it runs out. What that really means is this: Stop trying to get on the front page of Digg or “roll up” other verticals and be absolutely indispensable to the people you already have.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.