Friday, April 03, 2009

Your social site is only as good as the people using it

Longtime readers of The Viral Garden will recall that last Summer, I was hot n heavy into blogging about Plurk. How I loved the site, the community that had embraced its quirky features, and yes, the game-changing threaded conversations.

But the other day I visited Plurk for the first time in literally months. And quite honestly, I doubt I will be back anytime soon. The site didn't look that much different, and offered all the functionality I and many others enjoyed when we first discovered the site last June.

So what changed?

The people changed. What made Plurk so enjoyable for me last Summer was that it was not only offering a lot of functionality that Twitter didn't, but more importantly, most of my network was there. Most of the people that I wanted to stay in constant contact with, came to try out Plurk last Summer when Twitter was having its all-too-frequent outages. But as Twitter gradually got their issues sorted out last year, my network began to migrate back to Twitter, and away from Plurk. At some point late last year, I had to make the tough choice to all but abandon Plurk, because by then almost all of my close contacts were back on Twitter.

There's an important lesson here for social sites such as Plurk and Twitter: You don't need to just get my attention, you need my network as well. You need to not only give me a reason to try out and use your site/tool, you then need to make it as easy as possible for me to encourage my network to come join me. Because at the end of the day, you can have all the cool features and shiny functionality you want, but if my network isn't using your site, why should I?


Unknown said...

Here is the million dollar question: If Plurk offered more advantages and superior programming/hosting, why did it fail to attrack the network of users?
Is it simply destiny? Or is it all in the name... I believe it could be both, but once a company starts it makes it's biggest decision by choosing a name. A name is more than something catchy it also embodies what people want to be a part of. ... I'm plurking ... The odds from jump are tough. I'd really like to hear anyone's thoughts on this, as I think it may demand a better answer.
Look me up at Yak About It (yakaboutit) on twitted.

Doug Waltman said...

Right now I feel the same way about Whrrl. I only know a few people using it right now. My network hasn't moved, so I've been reluctant to branch out. On the other hand, someone has to be the first to try it.

Unknown said...

Hi Mack,

Like you I was using Plurk last summer and enjoyed the conversations and Plurkshops. During that time I also joined Identica, Rejaw and a few others as we all sought an alternative to Twitter. Twitter resolved its issues and everyone abandoned the other networks. I logged into Plurk recently too and had much the same reaction. It's no fun when none of your network is on the site.

Karl Foxley said...

I have had the same experience... I didn't really like Twitter in the early days but now I dislike Plurk completely, it has no place in my daily interactions.

Twitter however continues to grow on me the more I use it to connect with my community.

Thanks for posting.

Stuart Foster said...

The decision to use Twitter over Plurk came down to this decision for me: Where could I learn more? Because I started a bit later then most (March of '08) the conversation about marketing and public relations that was most relevant could be found on Twitter. So my decision was kind of made for me :).

Anonymous said...

Doug, Whrrl's user experience paradigm has shifted - it's now a real time, real world story telling or sharing app, which makes it less dependent on having friends in network.

Mack, great overarching point - the tools/tech may be teh awesome, but the fundamental value is in the people and enabling/empowering those interactions. The tools are necessary, but not sufficient, to facilitate (and accelerate) distributed interactions.

Beth Harte said...

Plurk... Such fond memories.

Here's the thing, if it weren't for Plurk, I would have never got up to speed on Twitter. I think Plurk (and it's threaded conversations!) made it easier for people to connect and have real conversations. But like you mentioned Mack, once Twitter started resolving its issues, I slowly migrated back to it and started having more conversations there.

I do miss Plurk, but it's too much to keep up more than 1-2 major social networks (at least for me).

Stefano Maggi said...

Your words are true and something networks (and startups) must always keep in their mind. I'm thinking about FriendFeed and the recent restyling (now in beta) it requires three main assets now.
1) more time to see the river of news
2) more skills to set up filters
3) more attention to follow the discussions

There assets are as rare as precious and FrienFeed needs to understand how to attract the right network (and not to push it away). Will FriendFeed be able to keep up with the audience's needs?

Mack Collier said...

Doug I knew your comments about Whrrl would bring out the evangelist in An ;) I met briefly with Whrrl's John Kim at SXSW, and while it looked interesting, at this point any social site/tool/app is going to have to cut through the clutter. I only have so much time left, so anything new is going to have to not only offer a great experience, but also give me a reason to try it out. I'll need to be able to quickly and easily see the direct benefits to spending time with it, or I'm not going to stick around.

Slightly off topic to the core point we are discussing here, but still very relevant.

And guys, thanks for the great discussion ;)

Danny Brown said...

Here's a question.

We all agree that the core factor in any network working is the people factor. Without the people, a network isn't a network - it's simply a holding space waiting to become a network.


Let's say your core network on Twitter is 100 people. 25 decide to be exclusive to Twitter; 25 to Plurk; 25 to Friendfeed; and 25 to something like or Rejaw (or any other one).

Who do you go with? How do you choose 25 over the other 75? Do you stay with Twitter and make a new network?

As we all agree, it is all about the connections. But sometimes these connections may falter, or end naturally, or go off in different tangents.

What happens then?

Gavin Heaton said...

@Danny - great question. That is actually what happened with Plurk. I think that is where I met @BethHarte ;)

This is a good example of a first mover advantage. It was only when Twitter's reliability became an issue that Plurk would have been able to capture a large percentage of Twitter's user base.

But understanding our own value points will determine what we commit to. It has to be easy and it has to have a quick return on attention. But the overriding element, I think, is the culture that is established around the platforms. Google did this well. Twitter had a couple of glitches but emerged well. And the loyalty that comes from the community strengthens attachment.

Sounds like ethics as a business model. Hmmm.

Lewis Green said...

Good points Mack. I left late last summer because I could see the handwriting on the wall. Despite inviting my network to join Plurk, they didn't. So I left. Frankly, in response to Jeff's question: I don't think the universe needs more than one micro-blogging site. Twitter more than meets my needs, which are infrequent visits only when I have the time to take away from my business.

JustinSMV said...

Its all about the your friends and peers I agree. When everyone was on the crazy fad of AOL, we were all on it then our friends and peers moved away from AOl....same applied to Myspace where now all your friends are on Facebook. This is a timeless ongoing event.

Nathan Snell said...

I think one sign of a really great internet property is one that doesn't require your network to exist or be worth something. If that's the case, there's an inherent barrier to its use.

Eg: Twitter requires your network to thrive. Delicious, on the other hand, doesn't (nor do the other sites the founder of delicious created, which is probably why they sold so quickly).

Does that mean that those sites aren't social? Not at all. But you're exactly right- those sites whose only real offering is worth something if your network is on them too have an inherent disadvantage if there is no value for the very first user.

tlwhittle said...

Plurk's mistake has been in tying people to the web interface - only in the last 2 months did an iPhone app come out. There's still no API, which means no desktop apps. No SMS updating. And the Plurk powers that be have been off-putting IMO with their occasional snide comments about Twitter.

That said, Twitter is still sorely lacking in comparison to Plurk with regard to how *I experience* conversation flow, and I don't see that changing anytime soon, or even ever. But you are right - because my network is there, I have a choice to make. In this case, I just feel like that choice gives me more interaction possibilities, but requires me to work much harder to bring those possibilities to life.