uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Fri 30 May 08 12:11
"Well, Meetup is a business -- what works for them is not necessarily aligned with what works for the users." Can you talk more generally about what happens when a loose organization gets co-opted by a money making machine?
Maria Rosales (rosmar) Fri 30 May 08 14:31
The distinction between facilitation and consensus is fascinating to me. I teach at a Quaker college, where we run most things on a consensus model. I'm going to raise that distinction at the next faculty meeting, because I think consensus has real potential for tyranny of the minority. On the book: I loved it. Have you read Deborah Stone's Policy Paradox? In many ways your book seemed like a practical application of her argument about the strangeness of politics--like that political resources are often increased, rather than diminished, through use.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Sat 31 May 08 19:34
I believe it was Stone -- if not, one of my other college textbooks :) -- that talked about how people on the down side of a political fight tend to 'spread it around' to try to get more people on their side, such as by alerting the media or inviting the public. Which is essentially what the book seems to be about. As far as Meetups -- I dunno. Once they started charging, it just seemed that, where I lived, all the air went out of it, and a lot of groups folded and new groups didn't start. Perhaps it's different now.
Clay Shirky (clayshirky) Mon 2 Jun 08 11:45
Sorry, I was away over the weekend, so just catching up. I'll bundle my responses in different posts. Apropos the phone story, yeah, I'm no longer a cyber-utopian. I used to be one, and it was hearing about the pro-anorexia girls that made me realize "This isn't a side-effect of the internet. This is an *effect* of the internet -- ridiculously easy group-forming cuts both ways." And one of the interesting themes of recent years is the ways in which 'cyberspace' is going away, as a marked separation from the real. With the net increasingly used to catalyze or direct real world action, its worth noting that had the proposed physical vigilantism in the 'stolen phone' forums actually come to pass, we would have been horrified -- "Cybermob Attacks Teen for Minor Infraction." And that's what I most liked about the phone story -- its clearly about new capabilities of participatory media, but its not clearly a complete win or a complete lose for society. And Jon, for that reason, the opening sentence of the book, from the very first draft, was always something like "In May of 2006, a woman named Ivanna left her phone in the back seat of a New York City cab." I got the story late, but once I got it, I always put it in chapter one, and when I wrote a preface, my editor was horrified, and told me "Don't put anything between the reader and the phone story!"
Clay Shirky (clayshirky) Mon 2 Jun 08 12:03
The Meetup question is a complicated one. It has always been always a business, so there was never any question of co-optation -- if Meetup doesn't make money, it will go away, the terms of any business. The core issue has turned out to be "From where should the money come?" The first answer was that it should come from the bars, restaurants and cafes benefiting from increased traffic, but that turned out to be impractical for a variety of reasons, including the displeasure of those places in not being able to pay to direct traffic, and Meetup was unwilling to limit its users' choices about where to meet. Answer #2 was "It should come from sponsors." These were the heady days of the Dean Meetups, but when the Dean campaign imploded, several factions maintained that they "owned" the Meetups themselves, and should be given all the names, contact details etc of the attendees, in order to encourage them to move over to Kerry, Clark, et al. Meetup was emphatic that the users owned the Meetups, not the sponsors, but that clashed with what the sponsors thought they were paying for, which was essentially the right to treat Meetup as a kind of digital Rolodex. So Answer #3 actually started as a question: "If the users own the Meetups, will they be willing to pay for them?" And the answer has turned out to be yes, above a certain size. Meetups of 5-6 mostly went away, because overcoming coordination costs for that small a group were never a big problem in the first place, but once you get to dozens, much less hundreds, it is a service worth the groups think is worth paying for, on present evidence. Meetup arrived at the business model pioneered by the WELL because the logic of third-party subsidy also creates distortions of expectation, distortions that Meetup decided would be bad for the users (and therefore bad for business) over the long haul. And this is one of the key points of the book, I think -- we are just at the beginning of experimenting with the whys and hows of group forming, and its not at all clear that Meetup's current answer is the correct one, or even a stable one. Several other possibilities include charging some kinds of groups and letting others be free (a la craigslist), taking donations instead of fees (a la NPR), running advertisements on the media generated as a side-effect of group use (a la Slashdot), and so on. Figuring out what business models fit what classes of group coordination seem to me to be one of the core problems of the current era.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 2 Jun 08 16:55
<scribbled by jonl Mon 2 Jun 08 20:17>
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 2 Jun 08 20:18
What business models for group coordination seem to be (actually or potentially) effective?
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 3 Jun 08 10:30
I took a stab at a tentative list while witing for Clay, and realized that it was not so easy to make up really useful categories here. Jon, when you say business models, are you thinking about revenue streams or public vs. non-profit vs private sturctures, or individual vs. group payers... or all of that?
Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 3 Jun 08 12:07
Have been reading a new book recommended by Art Kleiner called "Megacommunities," in which the idea is that some problems are so big that they require partnerships between business, government, and NGOs (what the authors call a "megacommunity"). About midway through the book they start explaining the importance of weak connections between people loosely connected and I found myself going, "where have I recently read the same thing," and remember just that discussion about degrees of connection in your book, Clay. So, trying to turn this into a question, rather than a statement of coincidence, have you heard of the book or concept, and if so, what do you think about it?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 3 Jun 08 12:25
Gail, my understanding of "business model" is that it's how an organization generates revenue to become sustainable.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 3 Jun 08 12:44
There's also a broader use - the Wikipedia page for Business Model takes it in that direction for example - which was probably confusing me. Thanks!
Clay Shirky (clayshirky) Wed 4 Jun 08 03:43
Jon, here's my 2-part business model matrix: Resources can come from three places: 1, the users, 2, the providers, or 3, third parties. 2. Provisioning of those resources can be a. mandatory or b. voluntary. Now this is quite general, far more general than "We'll generate ideas in the community, but profit from the patents" or "We'll raise money from donations", but they are patterns 3a and 1b respectively. I say 'resources' instead of money because the economic model of the internet as a whole -- if you pay for the infrastructure, you get to use it free -- means that many *many* more kinds of group action become possible without requiring a for-profit model, where the first design principle becomes working at low enough cost that the activity can be wholly subsidized by users, hosts, or third parties. What the network has done is move the first aspect of the business model sharply to the right: it is much harder to get money from users, and much easier to get money from third parties (usually advertisers or sponsors). And so the normal, offline model is #1a -- user pays -- while the normal for-profit online model is 3a -- advertiser pays. In addition, there are lots more models that rely on subsidy (as with "Pro" accounts subsidizing the free users, like Flickr Pro, etc.) And of course there can be multiple models at work in one place -- ads plus user subsidies, etc. Now I know this is a lot less granular than a list of actual business models, but I adopted it because I'm not sure a list of business models is that useful: knowing that eBay is clocking mad Gs with the auction format, or that clearing CC transactions turned out to be a good idea for PayPal, won't actually help much, because those are only "business models" in a historic sense -- someone starting now will find those options largely closed to them. So my MO has been to start thinking from a "Who pays, and how" breakdown, and get more specific from there (the analysis of Meetups 3 eras of business model proceeded more or less along these lines, in fact.)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 4 Jun 08 05:54
So the organizers of Meetups are third parties, by your assessment? And they're paying for access to the Meetup infrastructure? Do they select their own venues? One problem with the original Meetup model was that the users couldn't select date, time, or venue - that was all assigned. It was very top-down. When the Meetup organization created a Blogger Meetup for Austin several years ago, we met once or twice, decided we didn't like the date or venue, therefore abandoned Meetup and build our own organization. How about the WELL? The still-profitable model here is that user pays. The system has a manager, but management is loose - most of the work is done by volunteers. One could argue that the WELL has survived as an online community because the user pays - the payment requirement works as a filter - a barrier to entry that discourages trolls. And because they pay to participate, WELL members value discussions here differently than they might if access was completely free. Is the WELL an exception that proves the rule? Or does it suggest that the business model question is more complex?
Clay Shirky (clayshirky) Wed 4 Jun 08 07:40
No, the "third parties" model was Meetups original business -- the bar and cafe owners were paying for the extra business. MU functioned as a way of reducing customer acquisition costs, in the lingo of advertising. And yes, the vision of "It's Pit Bull Meetup day all around the globe!" had a certain "We are the world" appeal, but was well out of synch with local coordination issues. And the WELL is a #1a model -- user pays -- which is what MU settled on, and for the same reason (though, critically, in MU the group pays, which allows groups to decide how to syndicate the costs. In many Meetups, new users and infrequent users don't pay.) It's the only model where the users are defended from the threat of distortion by management, so it doesn't strike me as either complicated or an exception -- its just hard to pull off, because it is hard to find things people are willing to pay for, and because it typically stabilizes at a relatively fixed income.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 4 Jun 08 17:44
That meshes with my experience here at The WELL. The adjustment we're now doing to that formula most all the time is to give discounts for the initial period (a month or 2) and also for prepaying for a year instead of paying one month at a time. The commitment to pay something on a regular basis seems to have a lot of benefits. That barrier-to-entry helps make people take the act of joining more seriously, and along with the use of real names, creates an emotional buy-in. A company has a different kind of relationship to individuals in this context. It requires a different kind of respect -- directly towards the users --than respect of a 3rd party payer does. Another interesting side note is that users do pay for one another in times of need. They pool resources to cover subscriptions to The WELL when a cheristed pal is sick or out of work, for exapmle. Doesn't happen often,
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 4 Jun 08 21:24
Speaking of business models... Google twitter +"business model" and you get 202,000 hits. Much speculation there... a phenomenally compelling application, very high rate of adoption, but no clear and obvious path to revenue, and big scaling issues. On the other hand, many who "tweet" don't know how they could do without their twitterstream. Is there an obvious business model for Twitter than I'm missing?
Daniel (dfowlkes) Thu 5 Jun 08 03:55
<scribbled by dfowlkes Tue 3 Jul 12 10:14>
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 5 Jun 08 14:19
How would you negotiate that? Would it depend on a "preferred carrier" list as an upsell, with better features? Something else? It doesn't seem like a simple rev share would be attractive to any given phone co.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 5 Jun 08 14:58
By the way, I just got a pointer to this graphic: http://www.orgnet.com/community.html "The inner core of the community is composed of red nodes [zoomed-in view below]. They are very involved and have formed a connected cluster. The leaders of the OLC are embedded in the core. The core members will stay and build the community. Unfortunately they are in the minority. The core nodes are usually less than 20% of most on-line groups. Although small, they are a powerful force of attraction. It is the core that is committed and loyal to the OLC and will work on making it a success. They see a win-win for themselves and the group -- better connectivity will help the individual and the group simultaneously." ...etc. Maybe I'm the last to see it, but it looks cool to me! Nicely rendered, and showing off some of the familiar and fascinating math. Also answering my musing about how seldom somebody here pays for someone else. The lonely part of the crowd has not got enough motivation or social standing to do or receive that. Besides point that out, this is a good time to muse about the patterns noted inthe book too. Clay, what's surprised you about group behavior as you have been following these patterns?
What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Sun 8 Jun 08 09:43
Really interesting, Gail. That makes me want more details on the interactions at the three different levels. Wjat characterizes the connections among participants? How does it differ in the core and in the second ring? Are the folks at the core similar in regular ways to the folks at the core in other online communities? Those things would be great to know.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 8 Jun 08 21:56
I've described social networks as having a structure that looks like a fried egg. The yolk is relevant, active connections, and the white is a set of connections that are looser, less active, but with strong potential to engage.
poche (vassilio) Mon 9 Jun 08 05:05
(interesting how this breakfast image has become a major visual metaphor in the united states. I remember in new york in the Reagan years, this sunny side up photo of one's brain under drugs was on every subway train!!)
What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Mon 9 Jun 08 09:58
I've got it, Jon. But I want something finer-grained now. Or individual- level, comparative data. The networks/relationships play out that we can roughly assign one of three -- typo -- we can roughly assign each participant to one of three nominal categories (the core, the middle ring, the periphery -- or leaders, participants, lurkers, or whatever). *Other than being in the category*, what have they got in common with one another? And does it make them like the folks in that same category in other online social networks? Is anyone in a position to tell us that sort of info?
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 9 Jun 08 11:31
That would be sweet to know. Ancedotally, I know I have been in various of those rings in various communities both online and off. So there are some contexts where I am a lone dot way out away from the nucleus, and satisfied with that level of engagement. Amazon is an example. I have reviewed a very small number of books (3 as I recall, one Kathie Hafter's book about The WELL which I had to note I am associated with), and I've tagged, rated the quality of reviews, and once sent in a request to have a spammy review removed. All that over a period of ten years or do. I am fine with that level of involvement there, though I know there are much more involved people who spend a lot of time and use the forums there, for example. I think of myself as an outlier there, though Amazon might see me as middle- ring. I don't think there's anything they could do to push me to spend time there, if only because me online community time is pretty much split between The WELL (fun and work for me) and Flickr (almost all for fun for me). I only have so much time, after all. I will remain on one of the outer orbits for Amazon, and am satisfied. In comparison, I set up a MySpace page a year or so ago, and I have stopped using it. I may seem like a red dot to them, but I have no interest in getting more involved in that site at this point. I'm trying to think of a place where I am am a disconnected dot and I could be enticed to be more of a belonger. Right there's no such place, but that is most likely due to the variety and quality of interaction I am getting from my current communities. Not only is the outer orbit common for social sites, for a lot of people I would argue it is all they care to do there, and that pushing them could diminish their satisfaction if done badly. Sometimes I simply want to lurk, witness, read, grab, observe.
poche (vassilio) Mon 9 Jun 08 12:04
(re: question of 48) I would try common sense first and for more theoretican accuracy, Narrative Theory. And it's hard for me to believe that people asking these questions about social networks have never thought of viewing these nets as narratives and gain from the theoretical work of literary theorists. So I suspect that the need for these new formations is a commercial and not a very compassionate one. Please note that narrative theorists, all very competent, did not help authors and readers much because the questions they posed were not genuine. And also note that most of the early sociological studies of scpace nets (bb), considered very exciting then, and filled with the calvinistic bathos for the new dimension of the communal, became obsolete in no time. For the same reason. Sometimes it helps to face things with the humbleness we acquire" when we visit the health conference.
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