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.
What if you have nobody?
With the Rudius forums and social networking sites, there is intrinsic value in the size of the network. With each new user, the network’s value increases.
But if you have nobody, there is hardly any value enough for it to snowball, or for focusing on your two readers to create value. Is there a number then, 10,000 readers, 100,000 readers, when it becomes time to switch strategies? At the get go, you have to try somehow – through partnerships or whatever, to get as many eyes as you can.
Of course. But the best way to do that is launch from a community you’re already a member of.
I’ve been pushing for a forum a long time now. This might be the convincing evidence I was looking for. It’s the difference between talking to your audience and having a conversation. Might have to forward this post to my boss.
Ryan, is there ever the possibility of you changing the logo of your banner?
I am assuming (and please correct me if I’m wrong):
1) You don’t smoke
2) That isn’t you
3) As one of your biggest fans from before you got your Rudius site, I’ve stopped reading your blog consistently because I don’t like associating with cigarettes, and I don’t like using Google Reader/Feedburner
4) Is someone hiding from hands, with a cigarette representative of what your website is about, and more importantly, who you are? From what I’ve read and understand, that’s a definite no. Wouldn’t an image of a person with an Exacto knife and a box of Amazon books fit the image a lot better? Or even a person running?
That said, the quality of your posts have been steadily improving since the flame war with VA. I still love a lot of what you do, just the title and the adult dvd rental offer on the right side of your screen sort of degrades the underlying messages that your espousing. Might want to consider how that affects the image of your writing.
You have the wrong link for Chasing Kaz.
And despite the cigarette in your banner, I still somehow enjoyed your post.
You managed to express some pretty touchy concerns without being completely obnoxious so I appreciate that. And though I understand your thoughts about the Porn DVD ad, that is the unfortunate nature of Rudius’ position–most companies won’t touch it.
I really like the picture. I have it framed above my bed. It doesn’t represent my message, but I relate to it and it evokes somethings in me. The last thing it’s about is smoking.
You’re right though, image and framing is important–the medium is the message. But the photo is something I’m not willing to budge on.
For what its worth, I like your banner logo.
That being said, what you like, read and relate to at age 20 isn’t going to be the same at age 25, 30, 35, etc. If it is, you have a problem. That seems to be Rudius’ problem–thru TM you have no problem attracting the younger demographic, but retaining them for any length of time is almost impossible. And how do you profit off of them? Certainly not by banner ads for t-shirts & porn DVD rentals. Nobody gets paid that way. If Rudius is a business, and not a vanity play, there has to be a revenue generating model built into it. A bunch of loosely associated websites is not a community. 2-4 different message boards all hosted by the same server is not a business model—its a plaything. Every niche attraction or interest has websites dedicated to it, whether it is politics, specific sports, art, antiques, etc. However these are all hobbyist sites—nobody is getting rich off them, and the sites rise & fall in popularity similar to a change in fashions.
You criticized Krispy Kreme–however the owners who started Krispy Kreme cashed out very handsomely when they took their company public–they had a business model that they were able to grow until they grabbed the brass ring. That it hasn’t been able to keep the same growth since then is immaterial to the owners who got paid.
Page views don’t pay the bills. # of unique hits on a monthly basis doesn’t make a brand. # of posters on a message board doesn’t build a company. Everything Rudius has “built” or represents is virtual. There is no there there. Brands are built by consumers acquiring ownership, thru purchases, in a company’s products, or by a company providing a service that a vendor wants to sell & a consumer wants to buy (broker/agent type relationship). Not thru clicking on a website to see if there is anything there that can entertain them for five minutes.
Way to backpedal, Holiday.