An online community, or for that matter any community, is built upon 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 Internet (or even telephone to a lesser degree) provides in terms of ease of communication, it takes away from the richness, texture and context of the conversation. As such a number of startups are trying to address the problem with online communities and restore richness, texture and context to online communities. (Richard calls this market segment, meta social networking).
Who reads my blog
MyBlogLog started off with the agenda to provide blog analytics. They launched MyBlogLog Communities mid last year, to enable readers of blogs to join and share their experiences with other like-minded group of readers. The idea was that if readers like same content, they probably have plenty else in common. They built a platform where readers could trade messages with other readers and see what other sites they visit.
Power of Images
They hit the jackpot with the reader rolls that provided a picture to connect readers and writer of blogs. By just providing a static visual cue in the form of a picture, MyBlogLog provided an important visual context for online community conversations. The result, their usage took off and is not at over 50K users…In the meantime, they also got acquired by Yahoo! for a $10M.
Where there are visitors there is spam
With all the success came a number of people looking use MyBlogLog for financial gains. From R-Rated avatars to people pretending to be somebody else to other commercial avatars like Mr. Online Pharmacy, there has been a glut of stories related to how people are trying to game MyBlogLog and given their history, MyBlogLog has understandably been having a hard time coping.
In addition to all the spammers, there is new competition on the horizon for MyBlogLog. OthersOnline and Explode are two emerging players. These players have interesting new twists to the functionality provided by MyBlogLog. Let’s take a quick look at each:
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 bloggers circle of friends. Another capability Explode provides is a comment wall for each user, where friends and other users can post comments. This also provides valuable context on each of the user.
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. Now using these keywords, OthersOnline shows profile information, along with presence and email, of users 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 do before we have achieved a good enough quality of online interactions. Good things, a lot of companies are working on it.