Online community, or for that matter any community, is built upon the shared experiences of its participants. In the real world, people in a community typically interact with each other by gathering at same physical location, at the same time. In online communities, it is easy for users to interact with each other without any geographical or temporal limitations. But in return for the benefits that the Internet (or even the telephone to a lesser degree) provides in terms of ease of communication, there is less richness, texture and context in the conversations. A number of startups are trying to address this problem with online communities and in this post we review some of them.
MyBlogLog started off with the aim of providing blog analytics. MyBlogLog Communities was launched mid last year, to enable readers of blogs to join communities and share their experiences with other like-minded groups of readers. The idea was that if readers like the same content, they probably have plenty else in common. MyBlogLog built a platform where readers could trade messages with others and see what other sites they visit.
Power of Images
MyBlogLog hit the jackpot with the 'Recent Readers' facewalls, which provided a visual way to connect readers and writers of blogs. By just giving a static visual cue in the form of a picture, MyBlogLog provided an important visual context for online community conversations. The result: MyBlogLog's usage took off and is now at over 50K users. In the meantime, they also got acquired by Yahoo! for about $10M.
Where there are visitors, there is spam
With all the success of MyBlogLog, came a number of people looking to use it for financial gains. From R-Rated avatars, to people pretending to be somebody else, to other commercial avatars like Mr. Online Pharmacy, there have been a number of instances of people trying to game MyBlogLog. And MyBlogLog has struggled to cope with it.
In addition to the spammers, there is new competition on the horizon for MyBlogLog. OthersOnline and Explode are two emerging players that have interesting new twists to the functionality provided by MyBlogLog. Let’s take a quick look at each...
comment wall for each user, where friends and other users can post comments. This also provides valuable context on each of the users.Explode provides the same analytics capability as MyBlogLog, but in addition to Analytics it also allows users to build a network for friends - who can be readers or writers of blogs. Bloggers can then display a 'friends' widget on their blogs. This widget provides valuable context on the readers of the blog and the blogger's circle of friends. Another capability that Explode provides is a
OthersOnline has an interesting twist on the idea of providing context. They allow people to register their profile along with their website. As part of the registration process, OthersOnline asks users to categorize their website and themselves, via keywords. Using these keywords, OthersOnline shows profile information of users, along with presence and email, via a browser plug-in (a widget is in the works as well). The idea is to make it easy for people to locate other like minded individuals or websites, in the course of browsing.
While these companies are breaking new ground in making online conversations more useful, there is still a long way to go before we have achieved a 'good enough' quality of online interactions. What do you think of MyBlogLog and/or the others mentioned here? Have they improved your online communities?