Monitoring the Conversation

I recently wrote about how the online conversation is real. The basics of that post is that blogging fosters interaction. No surprise, to be a successful blogger, reading, writing, and responding to others within the larger community is an absolute must.

There are a growing number of ways that users can keep track of online conversations. David Teten spoke to one of them in the previous post- PubSub. PubSub is a prospective (forward looking) matching service that provides new information to users as it becomes available. So, for example, if you want news or information on social software, you would create a PubSub subscription with keywords “social software”. You can view a subscription like social software on PubSub or simply by copying the feed they provide into your favorite news aggregator.

Other ways to monitor the conversation include keeping track of “tags” that interest you. Tagging is a growing trend in the social software world and is closely related to “social bookmarking”. I’ll first speak to social bookmarking because it is similar to a word most people are familiar with – bookmarks.

Social bookmarking builds upon collaborative efforts, in that an individual’s bookmarks (or “favorites”) are no longer just their own. Rather, they are shared with the larger community. Unlike storing a bookmark under a particular folder in your browser, social bookmarks are saved online and are not categorized by folders, but are instead “tagged” by keywords. Users (and not computers) select appropriate tags for articles or sites of interest, as they come across them through their surfing of the web.

This post, for example, might be tagged with the word “socialsoftware” on any number of social bookmark sites. The most popular social bookmarking tool to this point is del.icio.us. Take a look at the socialsoftware tag or at my social bookmarks. Each tag also has an RSS feed, so that you can keep track of them in your favorite news aggregator (I’ll provide some more info on how to actually do that in my next post).

Tags can help you stay informed and introduce to information you might not have found otherwise. For a more advanced use of tags, take a look at what I am doing with my first blogoposium.

update: a good reference on social bookmarking basics (via Jyri Engeström) by Tony Hammond, Timo Hannay, Ben Lund, and Joanna Scott; and a very academic piece by Clay Shirky entitled Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags (via David Teten’s suggestion)

Effective Online Forum Usage

Steve Pavlina, who blogs on “personal development for smart people” (sounds like a tag line I could use) writes on Using Online Communities Effectively. This article reads like a micro-summary of “The Virtual Handshake”. For anyone who is an active user of online communities, it’s worth reviewing this.

MSN Spaces and Yahoo 360

USA Today provides a comparison of MSN Spaces and Yahoo 360. Without commenting in depth on those systems, my general recommendation is to avoid becoming dependent on gated communities.

From our point of view as authors of a book due out June 30, the entry of big players like MSN and Yahoo is very exciting. It validates the space and shows the mass market appeal of these services. Plus, these services will make good marketing partners for the book.


Via the Social Software Weblog

Why LinkedIn is better suited for use by advanced users of online networks

My coauthor Scott Allen pointed out this great analysis by Carolyn Burke of Psycho-sociological Stages in the use of a Public Contact List on Social Networking Sites. Her basic thesis : “As a member’s understanding of the site and its features matures with time and training, the use put to the publically displayable contact list portion of their own profile will transition over time.”

Her analysis shows that for the typical brand-new user of a site, who is seeking to amass large numbers of contacts, a service like Orkut is very well-suited. But for serious users who actually want to get utility from a site, services such as LinkedIn are much better designed.

Anyone interested in how to design an effective social network service should review this.

Profile of Albourne Village, for the alternative investment community

I recently had a conversation with Sam Lewis and Ashton Mayne of the Albourne Village. We are adding this profile of the Albourne Village to our Social Software Site Guide. A similar, but much more exclusive, site that I profiled a while ago is the Value Investors Club.

Albourne Village

February 15, 2005

Website:

village.albourne.com

Summary:

Albourne Village is a completely free internet-based “knowledge economy” and virtual community for the alternative investment community. Among the noteable features of the site: hedge fund news; discussion around industry issues; jobs; and a directory of service providers in the industry.

Membership:

Nearly 25,000 users in 118 countries. The Village is growing by 40-50 people a day.

Launched:

Launched on Thanksgiving Day, 2000. Albourne seeded the community with 260 people: their clients, friends, and leading industry figures.

Founder/CEO:

The CEO of Albourne Partners is Simon Ruddick. The “Mayor” of Albourne Village is Sam Lewis, and Ashton Mayne is responsible for its day-to-day activities.

Corporate Overview:

Albourne Partners is the world’s largest advisor to hedge fund investors. Albourne Village is a separate nonprofit entity run by an affiliate of Albourne Partners. Albourne Partners is named after Albourne, a small ancient village in Sussex county (England).

Albourne Partners advise hedge fund investors on due diligence; manager selection; strategy timing; portfolio construction; and risk management. The firm is based in London and has approximately 50 clients and 50 staff. Albourne is the due diligence adviser to Standard & Poor’s, and also works for family offices such as the Ed Bass Group and endowments such as the University of California. They advise 3 of the top 30 fund-of-funds.

Fees:

Membership is completely free, and Albourne has no intention to change that. Albourne Partners believes that the marketing and name recognition benefits of running this unique online community are sufficient compensation to it. In addition, there are many informal benefits to them, e.g., passes to exclusive industry conferences. Anyone interested in alternative investments can be a resident, including students without previous work experience in the industry, although only sophisticated investors are allowed access to all areas of the site.

Description:

The Albourne Village is an unusual example of an online community successfully serving a busy, time-sensitive group: hedge fund investors and others interested in the sector. About ¼ of their members visit the site at least once a day, which is an extremely high usage rate vs. other online communities. About 85% of their members visit the site at least once per month. Much of that traffic is driven by members following up on news links in their daily newsletter.

The Albourne Village was listed in the Online Finance 40 in the March 2002 edition of Institutional Investor, and moved up to number 26 in the Online Finance 30 in the March 2003 international edition.

Albourne’s culture is friendly, with a dry sense of humor. , Their slogan is Don’t just join the Village, be the Village.” Part of the FAQ says, “The descriptions are of guidelines, not rules. It is envisaged that these guidelines will evolve over time. It is hoped that this will be as a result of a vibrant dialogue between those that we hope will come to care about such matters.”

The most-used features of the site are:

  • Village Pub – the “Bridge Inn” where Residents can accessing daily news, notice boards, question boards, and forums. Sample queries:

“I am looking for information on top European hedge funds by assets under management. Does anyone have any information (either Europe-wide or for individual countries) showing this, or know where it can be found?”

“We are looking for a software which could help us in selecting uncorrelated equities on the Nasdaq. Instead of comparing figures stock by stock in an Excel sheet, we would like to know which softwares exists allowing us to select for example "equities with a negative correlation" or stocks with a correlation coefficient of 2%.”

  • Library – current industry related literature, as well as research posted by other Residents wishing to sell their knowledge for Apples (more on Apples later)
  • Hedge Fund Mall — directory of hedge funds for perusal by accredited investors.
  • Job Centre – Anyone can post an industry related job vacancy or job wanted advertisement. One of the busiest parts of the site.
  • Business Centre — directory of service providers to hedge funds
  • Data Farm — includes Standard & Poor’s, MSCI, and HedgeFund Intelligence hedge fund indices. Also houses the Albourne Weather Forecast – a daily estimate of how conducive the prevailing underlying market environment is for a variety of hedge fund trading strategies.
  • Conference Centre – highlighting up and coming events
  • Village school — industry-related courses on offer

At the launch of the Village, every resident could communicate with every other resident. However, a few spammers made that openness unfeasible. Now people can opt at their discretion to be contactable. However, there is no easy way to search through the members’ database, so Albourne’s design is not as open to people directly reaching out to others as most online communities. You can view a member’s profile only by clicking on his user ID, if you see that that member has participated in the pub, is currently logged on the site, or has contributed some content to the site.

In general, it is very rare that Albourne has to delete someone’s comment in a chat room or delete a person’s account. Because Albourne targets a highly interlinked community of professionals, they do not attract many trolls.

A unique aspect of the Village’s design is the use of Apples. “The Apple is the internal currency used within the Village. It is fundamentally a medium of barter to encourage the free flowing exchange of information between the Village Residents.” You get 500 Apples upon admission to the Village, and can earn more by contributing content, commenting on others’ content, inviting new members to join, and also by giving money to charity. In practice, the only time that people actually pay cash for Apples is when they make a donation to the Village Church, and get Apples in return. The Albourne community has raised over $US350,000 since 2000. This is the rough equivalent of the feedback system used by Monster Networking.

You can spend Apples on purchasing content, the gift shop (T-shirts, etc.), or on charity.

Notes:

One of the themes of successful online communities is the importance of focus and of exclusivity. Albourne’s tight focus allows it to provide high value to its members by serving their unique needs.

The Village is not exclusive at all; anyone can join. However, because it is only marketed to a small community, and because of the privacy controls, its relatively open doors do not reduce the value of the system.

Recommendation:

If you have a serious interest in alternative investments, we recommend becoming a member. Contributing high-value content is probably the fastest way to meet people on the site.

Disclosures:

David Teten’s research company for professional investors, Nitron Advisors, and his executive recruiting firm, Teten Recruiting, are members of Albourne’s Business Center.

Elite/Selective Online Social Networks

Time magazine reports on an online network focused on the rich and famous: Clubs for People Who Point and Clique — Oct. 25, 2004. This is consistent with the emergence of other selective online networks we have profiled, such as TheSquare; Value Investors Club; and the International Executives Resource Group (all featured in our networking site guide). I suggest that these online communities are typically much more valuable than the more open ungated communities.

How to find your online home

“The biggest surprise for us is that the meetings are turning into long lasting sustainable groups that meet month after month. Whether a knitting Meetup, Political Meetup, Dog Meetup, etc., these people treat their groups like local institutions.”
– Scott Heiferman, CEO of Meetup.com

A question we are often asked is how does one find an appropriate online community/venue to build business relationships online?
To find a community that suits your interests, we suggest using some of the tools below as a starting point:

• Any search engine. For example, let us say that you are an Israeli living in Chicago. If you search for Israeli Community Chicago, you will pull up the “Israeli Community Chicago” at ICChicago.com.

• ASAE (the association for the people who run associations), with over 6,500 groups indexed in the US, as well as searchability for their overseas member associations: www.asaenet.org.

• Yahoo! has a comprehensive, well-categorized list of association websites by industry. Try searching for professional organizations on their site.

Once you get to know people within a given community, ask around to learn what other communities the members are involved in and recommend.

Ryze eyes shift in networking model

Today, Ryze founder/CEO Adrian Scott announced plans for significant changes intended to improve the quality and experience of business networking on Ryze. None of the plans are written in stone at this point, and he has opened it up to the Ryze membership at large for feedback.

The feedback indicates we’re doing a few things well, but that there are a lot of things we could be doing better. Different people feel differently about different aspects of Ryze, just as people network with different approaches and styles. As we look at improving Ryze, we want to address the issues that people have raised, keeping in mind the overall goal of improving the quality of the business networking on Ryze for all, and making it a great place for thoughtful interactions.

Scott also offers some insight into Ryze’s philosophy, sharing two principles that guided them in creating these proposed changes:

– Structure over Policy

Structure refers to providing an environment that supports the goals of Ryze through the architecture and avenues for communication. Policy is the setting of standards that require communication, voluntary cooperation and ‘policing’ of violators. When structure helps support goals, positive actions are encouraged just by means of the structure itself and ‘policing’ and ‘enforcement’ are minimized. In the case of trying to solve problems only by ‘policy’ rather than with structure, there needs to be a complicated policing and enforcement system, which is not much fun for anyone, and is not realistically something we can provide to a large membership with a limited staff.

– Encouragement of Quality over Quantity

We’d like to create an environment that encourages quality, rather than quantity for its own sake. We still have a ways to go on this, but it’s an important consideration as we look to the future.

I’m particularly encouraged by the latter. The public displays of the twenty most active and largest networks, the number of hits to someone’s profile, and even friends lists have been items that I’ve long had issue with. It is simply human nature to “optimize for the metric”. If you put a number up there and make it public, a significant number of people will alter their behavior to maximize that number, whether that’s really a good, sensible thing to do or not. And those who don’t feel an unspoken psychological pressure to do so — it makes others feel inadequate.

Case in point… consider the guy who offered feedback on my LinkedIn class saying, “I looked at Scott’s number of connections and was not impressed. I almost have as many as he does!!!” Mind you, I had almost 200 at the time, and no great desire for more. When you publish those metrics, you encourage those kind of attitudes. So I’m very glad to see this shift at Ryze.

Some of the major areas targeted for change include:

Guestbooks:

We are looking at converting the guestbooks to being “Friends-only”: only friends can write in and view the guestbooks by default. Members could still opt to have their guestbooks visible and available to all as a preference setting. This will certainly affect the nature of Ryze quite a bit, which will take some time to adjust to. While it will reduce the volume of messages, it will still provide an easy outlet for people to keep in touch with their friends, and encourage thoughtfulness from others by guiding their communication to private messages. It will also enhance the perception of Ryze as a place for business.

Searching and contacting people:

We are looking at shifting to a model where advanced searching would be free, but gold membership would be required to contact people who are more than 2 degrees away and not in any of the same Networks on Ryze. Gold members would be able to contact a limited number of these ‘distant’ members in a time period, such as 20-30 per month.

“Friends” or…?

We’ve also gotten a lot of feedback that we should we replace the word ‘Friends’ with something else more ‘business-like’. We’ve heard suggestions including ‘Colleague’, ‘Trusted Colleague’, and a few others. We’re not sure which direction we should go on this and would be interested in your thoughts. If we go with something other than ‘Friend’, we probably need to move from talking about ‘Friend of a Friend’ to using the ‘degrees of separation’ terminology (e.g. a friend of a friend is 2 degrees of separation, and a friend is 1 degree away). ‘Colleague of a Colleague’ would sound pretty confusing :).

Friend (or whatever) requests (one of my pet peeves, and I’m very happy to see this shift):

We’ve gotten a lot of complaints from people who receive lots of friend requests from people they don’t know — in some cases, repeatedly. This looks like another area where ‘policy’ solutions alone don’t work and more structure is needed. So we’re looking at requiring people to type in a person’s email address to be able to request to add them as a friend. This is pretty standard in most networking-related services. As part of this, we’ll be upgrading the infrastructure so you can have multiple email addresses attached to your Ryze account, something that’s been on the to-do list for a while :).

While it may be noble and friendly to want befriend everyone, the kinds of functionality that can be valuable using friends as a filter get less useful if there’s only a modest amount of selectivity in who’s added as a friend (again, more reason to reconsider if they should be called ‘friends’).

Network lists:

The “Most Active” & “Largest” Networks listing would be phased out, replaced with items like links to Networks that your friends are in. Though the lists are fun, they don’t encourage quality interactions or recognize the value of focused networks with high signal-to-noise ratios. They also don’t work well as the number of networks increases. [ Network Invites will also be released soon which Network Leaders can tap into to grow their membership by email invites from both them and their membership. ] We expect to test this new version of the Networks page out later in the week, along with making the page load faster.

Other miscellaneous changes include:
– Limit of one photo for free members
– Removal of “who’s visited your page” feature (Good riddance! It made many people uncomfortable.)
– Removal of “Newest Photos” list
– Removal of comments in event RSVP (I understand the issue, but think there are better solutions)
– Privacy preferences will become part of the setup process (to help prevent people unknowingly entering the network on medium privacy setting, and no one able to contact them until they contact others).

The proposed changes are open for comment in the Ryze Support Network. You’re also welcome to come discuss the proposed changes in the Using Ryze Effectively Network.

Online networking for women

A reader of our blog wrote in with the following observation and question:

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about both the aging baby boomers and the social networking trend. It seems to me like there might be a lot of opportunity in the middle aged women sphere. I’ve done some looking around, but at this point I haven’t found ANYTHING that caters to anyone but business people or young adults. Do you know of anyone filling this space?

Keep in mind that many “business networking sites” are, for the most part, just online communities with one new feature, and it’s not even really a defining feature (at least not on some sites). So, regarding “business networking sites”, yes, there are a number that cater to women:
eWomenNetwork
World Women In Technology
International Virtual Women’s Chamber of Commerce
A Woman’s Place (an Ecademy Trusted Network)

That’s just a few — there are many more, even if they’re not getting much attention in the current hype about social networking sites. There are dozens focused on work-at-home moms (WAHMs), as well. And, of course, within the broad sites, there are numerous sub-networks/clubs/groups specifically for women. 8 of the top 20 busiest networks on Ryze are specifically for women, and 5 more of them are predominantly female in their membership, even if not specifically named/positioned as being for women.

Maybe no one has created Womanster.com yet, but they’re certainly not being left out. In fact, judging from the activity on Ryze, it appears women are taking to online networking very well.

Orkut vs. other social networks

Stuart Henshall comments on Orkut’s rapid growth compared to other social networks:

Orkut bridges the gap between Ryze (too open) and Linkedin (too closed) without the “everything is for sale” on Tribe. I suspect that those with “Friendster” experience also see it as providing extra functionality.

While I think the comparisons are accurate, the “toos” need to be considered in context. Ryze is not too open for those trying to dramatically increase their visibility to a large audience. LinkedIn isn’t too closed if you’re a busy executive/professional only wanting to make focused contacts. And what’s wrong with the “everything is for sale” aspect of Tribe? At least it seems to help keep the discussion forums themselves free from advertising, because there’s an appropriate place for it.

Always consider context when making value judgments. When deciding on a social networking tool, the question is not, “Which one is best?”, but rather, “Which ones are best for me?”