Big Boulder: Blogs, Comments, Forums and Rich Social Data Gestures

A panel discussion on forums, comments and blogs and other rich social data gestures with Ro Gupta from Disqus, Mark O’Sullivan from Vanilla, Mike Preuss from FormSpring and Martin Remy from Automattic, and moderated by Nicole Glaros from TechStars.

Social Gestures Panel at Big Boulder

The definition of community can vary widely across platforms, but is there a real definition of community? At Disqus, they like to think of communities as a continuum. First come comments then conversations on twitter, blogs, and other platforms. Once the conversation is developed, it gives way to a community. Communities are about recognition and repetition, and forums allow for these communities to develop. Commenting systems are a jumping point for communities. Mark O’Sullivan of Vanilla coined them “community training wheels” because they are a good starting point for community forums. They enforce familiarity and often lead to offline communities as well. Mike Preuss explained what draws people into communities: FOMO. As social beings, the “fear of missing out” or FOMO drives communities. When 45% of daily users on FormSpring are creating content and engaging others, users feel the need to contribute to the conversation. About 74% of visitors to Disqus will return everyday or every other day. “When you think you’re missing out on something,” Mike says, that defines a community.

Developing a community is a huge task, but the bigger task is engaging users. At Vanilla, they have a full range of social gestures because not everyone will be able to contribute to every topic. But by using “light weight” gestures such as “likes” or “smiles” in the case of FormSpring, content creators can receive feedback and give readers some way to signal back. It also helps to identify good and bad content, influencers and contributors in the community and drive moderation from these. There’s a tremendous push toward allowing anyone the chance to become a content creator. A recent and fascinating case of this is Pinterest; “pinning” photos is creating content and allows users to express who they are.

At Disqus, they focus on reaction tools, according to Ro Gupta. Ro says they want to be able to reengage after the fact, and this includes cross-pollinating on other platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Engagement can be measured by “daily active users.”  The 90:9:1 rule is something that Disqus deems true for their platform. 90% of users are passive clickers, 9% help curate content, and 1% create the most content and drive discussions. However, there is a middle ground because of lightweight gestures that encourage users to engage on a smaller scale. According to Ro, about 35% of users contribute solid participation in the form of  lightweight gestures. In the case of Vanilla, Mark said some users were hesitant to allow lightweight contributions, but over time, users found it encouraged new content and lowered barriers to engagement.

Lightweight interactions are relatively new, but do they really affect product roadmaps? The answer is always yes. Martin of Automattic says WordPress isn’t adding social for the sake of “adding social,” but rather because the feedback from lightweight interactions is motivation for content creators. WordPress is adding more tools to enable this as well. As Mike of FormSpring explains, “we want to reward good user behavior,” by releasing new features for users. Lightweight actions help them sort what’s actually relevant to communities, so FormSpring came out with a feature to sort by most popular and by language.

When it comes to platforms, each company agreed that it is extremely important to carry content across platforms. As Martin said, it’s important for people to publicize their content outside of their blogs. Users want to share on tumble, twitter, and elsewhere. Tumblr actually doubled engagement within WordPress. “Viralizing the content,” Ro of Disqus says, draws in more users. 50% of Disqus’ users connect with another social platform and 10-12% of comments are shared on Twitter. And while you’re always competing for eyeballs online, no single platform can own a conversation about something. When a user is particularly interested in a topic, it will naturally cross platforms. Facebook has even helped discussions grow through “Facebook comments”. They tend to increase the pie for everyone and open the eyes of new users.

One of the biggest concerns of content creators is engagement versus reach: which is more important? Both matter to different creators, and but it’s important to consider who is asking. For example, a blog like TechCrunch has more influence and reach than a personal blog, but both reach and engagement are valuable within different communities.

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