Why you don’t want to own community

You don’t want to own community. First, because you can’t; the community owns the community. Second, because then you become responsible for all the community’s sins: See MySpace having to hire a safety czar who, presumably, will tell people not to be stupid enough to meet strangers and get murdered. Way back when, in the heyday of personal homepages, I argued to my boss that he didn’t want such services because he didn’t want his brand appearing on the 6 o’clock news with the phrase “devil-worshipping serial killer’s home page.”

What you do want to do is enable community. You want to leave control and responsibility at the edges — because that’s where it is anyway — and bring people together with information and each other. The web is the social application. The challenge is to find ways to bring people together in ways they couldn’t otherwise do themselves. Think the social Edgeio (below) or the open Flickr or the Technorati of people.

  • I completely agree with you on this one. I run Kiwibox.com and we’re learning these same lessons. We’re trying to design our community features in such a way that users take on responsibility for keeping the community comfortable for them and their peers. We’re doing this by enabling a tiered social infrastructure where certain users have responsibilities and authority, whereas others just enjoy the benefits of a community like this. I think the MySpace “safety czar” won’t work out in the end, the community is much too large and has a mind of its own, everything this person does will probably be construed as unwelcome by users. The way they probably should’ve done it in my opinion is created a class of users who collect input from the community at large and then through a forum process figure out what to do about problems they find.

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