August 5, 2006

Shel Israel interviews Martin Green on Communities

Posted in Community, Web2.0 at 12:20 am by mj

Shel Israel recently interviewed CNET’s Martin Green. (Disclaimer: Martin is my boss three-levels removed.)

Some of what he says about Webshots is tipping his hand at the Webshots redesign, currently in beta, and all of it is stuff he’s been saying internally for a long time.

From the interview:

People in a community are there to share. Blog services don’t provide an audience – the blogger does. If I post on my blog about a restaurant I went to, you, my friend Mike, my wife and a few other people will read it – that’s it.
[…]
Communities provide a stage and audience as well as the production equipment. Most blog tools only provide the equipment. And a community gives you the ability to be an performer or be part of the audience at different times within a social framework that has some familiarity from day to day.

Martin is a smart, charismatic guy whose acquisition strategy seems to be to find small (employee-wise) companies that he’s passionate about, make the founders wealthy, and scale them up to size at their own natural pace. He’s part of the reason I still work for Webshots–he Gets It(sm), maybe more than I do, and certainly for a lot longer.

I’ve seen a number of his internal presentations and had some good conversations with him, so I was happy when he started blogging. I hope he’ll start sharing some of his cute metaphors and spiffy illustrations.

On the subject of communities, it will be interesting to see how Microformats and cross-site identity bridgers like PeopleAggregator mix this up in the coming years. These and other innovations will essentially provide the same set of services of a good community site–even walled gardens will find them essential for, if nothing else, search engine referrals–but will be more prone to errors and spam, and the information accessible via APIs will likely be broad, but shallow.

Why is that important? Because basic social networking features are becoming a commodity. A 14 year-old high school freshman can, with the aid of his dad’s credit card, create a core “Web 2.0” site, complete with rich profiles, tagging, comments, APIs, and Flash (or AJAX–your choice). The real meat is in the scale–dealing with the publishing and conversing and browsing histories of tens or, soon, hundreds of millions of users. What’s even better: analysing all of that information to provide a personalized, relevant experience for every one of your members, and requiring as little work as possible from them. To do that, you need to plow the depths of those histories, and not just skim the surface looking for stale, decaying remains.

All the major players–and CNET is no different, if a bit smaller and less ambitious–are aggregating these smaller, specific, authentic communities via acquisition. Can community-like aggregators and vertical search engines based around microformats compete with those incentives? If there’s enough money in it, maybe.

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