Home SXSW: World Domination via Collaboration

SXSW: World Domination via Collaboration

Sean Ammirati of mSpoke is at
SXSW in Austin, TX (USA). He is reporting for Read/WriteWeb throughout the event.

The SXSW conference has multiple panels
going on at the same time. I started my SXSW experience by attending the “World
Domination Via Collaboration”
panel. The presenters were: Jory Des Jardins
Co-Founder, BlogHer LLC; Betsy Aoki Program Mgr, Microsoft; Jessica
Founder and CEO, SwapThing; Lisa Stone Co-Founder and Pres of
Operations and Evangelism, BlogHer LLC; and Jenna Woodul Co-founder, LiveWorld


Jory Des Jardins opened the panel by stating that in ‘web 1.0’, community was a “nice
to have”. In ‘web 2.0’ the new reality is that community is “the business”. The panel
then jumped in, focusing back and forth between two topics:

(1) Tactics and policies to build a community organically, and 

(2) How to convince other individuals in your organization to actually spend time and
resources developing a community.

Build a Community Organically

The panel discussed two keys to build a community organically. First of all, you need
to understand the members and ask them what they want. Second, you need to make sure you
protect the community from spammers and trolls.

When discussing how you would understand a community, there were a number of tactics
discussed. First of all, the panel pointed out the obvious – that you should greet your
members and simply ask them. While obvious, it is amazing how many web services overlook
doing this. As an example, the panel pointed to the greetings that early Flickr users
received (interesting explanation here).

In addition to these tactics, Jenna strongly recommended that sites consider forming
advisory boards. She pointed to the ‘eBay voices
as a good example of this advisory board structure. However, she also emphasized the
importance of rotating membership of this group. You don’t want it to stay stuck with the

In terms of protecting a community from spammers and trolls, there was an interesting
question posed by a member of the audience: “Is anonymous commenting the cryptonite of an
online community?” While everyone agreed that at a minimum, you needed to allow people to
create online personas that might appear annonymous to the community (i.e. not their real
name), there was some disagreement around whether you should allow completely anonymous
commenting. BlogHer does not allow people to comment with out first creating an account.
This is so they can block individuals who repeatedly add comments that end up later
needing to be moderated; or as Lisa said, they “are building BlogHer not BlogPorn”.

Interestingly, Betsy talked about how she allows anonymous commenting, because if
people want to take the time to write a comment on her blog (even if it is rude or
errant), she wants to react to it. (She does block spam). Betsy also pointed to the
Slashdot ‘Anonymous Coward’ as an interesting example. It shows that the community
respects people who comment publicly more, but they are open to taking feedback even from
anonymous individuals. She explained that while it has added some work monitoring flame
wars in her role at MSFT, she did feel it added value to the Slashdot community.
Unfortunately, as this topic was heating up the panel ended – but it was an interesting
thing for community builders to consider regarding their own sites.

Convincing an Organization to Build a Community

Previous to starting BlogHer, Lisa was a consultant who helped a number of
organizations embrace community. She consistently followed a 2 step process on these
projects. First, she would monitor and circulate conversations occurring online, in real
time, about the organization. Then she would transition to getting her internal champions
(regardless of level) to start blogging in order to champion the concept.

Betsy pointed out that the employee blogging program at Microsoft skipped the first
step, but was entirely ‘grass roots’. A number of ‘feisty people’ felt it was important
to blog and made it happen. She runs the internal email distribution list and said that
they’re even more feisty on that list! As senior managers became aware of the blogging,
it was discovered that Microsoft had no formal policy around their employees blogging.
Note: Microsoft has decided to continue operating without a blogging policy.

Jenna talked about her experience helping large corporations (like BMW and Dove)
create community. She explained that at the end of the day her argument comes down to the
ROI of customers who are engaged in community versus those who are not. She pointed to an
eBay Case Study by Harvard Business Review (link here) that showed participants
in an eBay community purchase 56% more and listed 4 times as many items.


This was an excellent first panel of the show. While I wasn’t necessarily surprised by
what was said, the examples like eBay, Flickr and stories from the front lines at
Microsoft were fascinating. I’m sure the community at Read/Write Web has a number of
other good examples of community building. Please consider leaving these in the comments

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