Online Community Summit: Friday’s Sessions

Notable talks and comments at last Friday’s sessions at the Online Community Summit:    (2F4)

  • Soren Kaplan described iCohere’s work with World Vision, a billion dollar nonprofit with 20,000 employees worldwide. There was an online collaborative process leading up to a conference, using iCohere‘s software.    (2F5)
  • Dave DeForest discussed the online communities at the Motley Fool. There’s a 40:1 read-write ratio on their bulletin boards. The Fool’s strategy for monetizing the communities was to get the readers to pay, and to comp the writers. The comping process is transparent in that participants know that some people are being comped, but the actual process for comping people is not concrete. When the Fool went to a pay model, it had a 90 percent attrition rate. 73 percent of its community participants are also likely to perform another transaction on the Fool.    (2F6)
  • Mark Williams discussed Apple’s support forums. Right now, he’s handling everything — management, development, etc. His managers tell him that the objective is to reduce phone volume, but he sees the two audiences as separate. Robert Labatt noted that Apple does a great job of converging threads on its support forums.    (2F7)
  • Anne McKay posed the following theory, citing last year’s The Atlantic Monthly article on introversion: You need extroverts for a successful online community. I would argue the opposite, although I have no numbers to back me up. We had an interesting discussion about this very topic in the Collaboration Collaboratory about a year ago. It would be interesting to do Myers-Briggs analysis on online communities in a future case study.    (2F8)
  • Steve De Mello told stories of “bad behavior” on some of ezboard’s online communities, and noted that hosts should only deal with black-and-white issues. The best pressure is peer pressure. Gail Williams agreed with Steve’s assessments, and noted that while paid communities helped filter out trolls, they didn’t eliminate them entirely.    (2F9)
  • During a breakout session on metrics, Gail suggested that our biggest problem is understanding and serving lurkers. (See my previous entries on lurkers.)    (2FA)
  • Tom Coates informed folks on the IRC Backchannel about Wiki proxy, a cool little proxy that automatically links terms to Wikipedia.    (2FB)

Finally, Reid Hoffman and Ross Mayfield gave a quick walkthrough of Social Software. I was amazed at the blank stares in the room during this talk. These folks seemed to have some awareness of Social Software, but certainly not a deep understanding. The previous day, Marc Smith said that threaded forums aren’t going away. I agree, but the common wisdom in the group seemed to be that threaded forums tend to be the end-all and be-all of online communities. I strongly disagree with this assessment. Dave asked what Wikis offered that threaded forums do not. That question missed the point: It doesn’t have to be one over the other. (Ross enjoys needling folks by claiming that email and threaded forums are dead, but I don’t think he actually believes it.) My response to Dave was that there’s great potential for integrating Wikis and threaded forums (as I and others do with blogs).    (2FC)

George Soros: “The Bubble of American Supremacy”

George Soros has an excellent article in this month’s The Atlantic Monthly entitled, “The Bubble of American Supremacy,” where he decries the neoconservative Bush doctrine and proposes an alternative. Soros compares the Bush doctrine to a financial bubble:    (OE)

The quest for American supremacy qualifies as a bubble. The dominant position the United States occupies in the world is the element of reality that is being distorted. The proposition that the United States will be better off if it uses its position to impose its values and interests everywhere is the misconception. It is exactly by not abusing its power that America attained its current position. (65)    (OF)

One of Soros’s criticisms is that framing our fight against terrorism as a “war” instead of “crime-fighting” dooms it to failure. (See my previous entry on George Lakoff and framing.) War assumes that there is an enemy state, which is not currently the case. Terrorism has always been a problem (although the scope and form in which it took place on September 11 was unprecedented), and will never completely go away. Worse, war implies and, in some ways, condones the existence of innocent victims, some of whom will undoubtedly become terrorists themselves in response. Soros says:    (OG)

The most powerful country in the world cannot afford to be consumed by fear. To make the war on terrorism the centerpiece of our national strategy is an abdication of our responsibility as the leading nation in the world. Moreover, by allowing terrorism to become our principal preoccupation, we are playing into the terrorists’ hands. They are setting our priorities. (66)    (OH)

Soros concludes by proposing a cooperative approach towards building collective security:    (OI)

I propose replacing the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive military action with preventative action of a constructive and affirmative nature. Increased foreign aid or better and fairer trade rules, for example, would not violate the sovereignty of the recipients. Military action should remain a last resort. The United States is currently preoccupied with issues of security, and rightly so. But the framework within which to think about security is collective security. Neither nuclear proliferation nor international terrorism can be successfully addressed without international cooperation. The world is looking to us for leadership. We have provided it in the past; the main reason why anti-American feelings are so strong in the world today is that we are not providing it in the present. (66)    (OJ)