advice from a fake consultant

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

On The Wild West, Or, Who’s That Blogger?

In the 1870’s, a tall man in a tall hat would ride into town, hitch up his horse, and head to the local saloon.

Maybe he’d find himself at the general store, looking for a job and a grubstake.

Of course, many others staked their land from the back of a Calistoga wagon, or mined a hole in the ground, or panned a river. They ranched. They drove cattle.

Some of them rustled those cattle, and robbed a stagecoach or two, as well.

Put it all together, and you have the Wild West.

This in many ways resembles modern blogging.

As I look around today, I see a blog universe that has grown from individuals writing “my diary” posts, to journalism in the classic sense, to blogging “communities”, whose existence transcends the individuals posting.

It is within that universe of communities that I would like to focus today’s discussion.

A blogging community faces an inherent contradiction from the very start-the desire to advance the community’s objectives versus the freedom of speech that is clearly required if the community is to remain popular and a source of new ideas.

This issue is of particular note if the community is intended to advance a particular purpose-a product or political community, for example.

In my wandering around the Wild Web, I’ve noticed certain “management” issues that have yet to find solutions. Consider these three examples of “stagecoach robberies” that can or have occurred:

Over at BlueNC there’s a conversation ongoing regarding possible planted messages from a supporter of “possible” gubernatorial candidate Richard Moore.

Organized (or disorganized) groups of “shout-downers” (trolls on steroids) with a message opposite of the stated purpose of the community launch attacks that deter others from staying with the community.

The community’s “regulars” can become unwilling to accept the outside interactions that the owners desire

How can these concerns be addressed?

Let’s consider the BlueNC situation first.

Because these communities desire an open membership policy, there doesn’t seem to be an easy “gatekeeping” solution, and you’ll notice the comments among the members of the community reflect this reality.

Vigilance, however, has brought the issue up for comment, and that might turn out to be the most effective solution-to the extent that the connections can be noted.

But what about the “member on member” interactions? And how can the community’s management and owners appropriately respond?

Let’s put it in a political context.

If you are operating a campaign community, you want to have a “guest-friendly” environment, but be open as well. Obviously removing the most “trollish” and intentionally offensive posts is easy enough.

But what about a community that becomes insular?

The campaign is a marathon, and the communities are going to discover that 2 years is a long time to run chat and blog without weariness setting in.

How many times can the same group of regulars face “your candidate sucks!” over and over again without losing the desire to interact with outsiders at all?

This is where we get into new ground.

Obviously new methods of “wrangling the regulars” will have to be developed.

Here are a few quick suggestions:

Use the power of ownership. Consider the creation of “superusers” who are brought closer to the community’s management-maybe even a private chat room.

Create “evangelizing” opportunities for your regulars-for example, as a manager of a D candidate’s community I might challenge the superusers to visit R leaning websites to discuss my candidate, using talking points I develop in conjunction with the superusers.

Constantly remind the community of the ambassadorial and educational functions the candidate is hoping to achieve.

Create fun opportunities as well-anything from personalized gifts to VIP opportunities at various campaign events.

This is going to be a groundbreaking election cycle for the Internet, and a lot of rules are going to be written this time that will set the stage for many elections to come.

So git along, lil’ dogies. There’s a long trail ahead.

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