Communities and the stickiness of Q&A vs. T&O
So Josh Ledgard and I have been having a discussion around what makes a sticky community experience. He recently blogged about it and the stickiness of forums.msdn.com and how I (perhaps amongst others--he mentioned "people" but he may be trying to protect me by implying there are others :) ) suggested that Forums wasn't a sticky experience per se. He believes it is inded sticky and the answerers with hundreds of posts would have to agree. But the question is: what brings them back? Is it the spirit of community? And maybe that's a better question. What is community anyway and how does the creation of it lead to sticky experiences. (Cue the music to the theme song of Cheers: "Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name...")
Everyone has their own opinion of community. I think it’s a loaded word and it conjures up images every time it is spoken. So maybe it’s helpful for me to share my images. For me (and I partly lifted this from a mail thread w/Josh), I guess my idea of community is the message board on www.orioleshangout.com. I go there for news. I go there because a bunch of die-hard fans like me who have put up with eight seasons under 500 can talk about whether Nick Markakis is Roy Hobbs, whether Hayden Penn should start the season at AAA or the bullpen, or whether Melvin Mora is worth three years and $30M. I think I visit that site for 5-10 minutes every day between March and October regardless of whether I need to or not. I know the authors and the popular posters and their previous posts help color my opinion of their latest posts--and I care about who's saying it. That’s “sticky”.
I don't feel like that the role of forums.microsoft.com nor it should be per se. While some people browse, I think people go there to find answers to specific questions. But when I see the Orioles Hangout discussions, I imagine that those discussions could happen with our software about Microsoft-related stuff. It’s less Q&A (Question & Answer) and more T&O (Topic & Opinion). No one is there out of obligation, guilt, or frenetic need to solve a problem. Again, that’s my initial image of community and is by no means exhaustive. But that type of community has helped me be loyal enough to continue watching a team that hasn’t had a #1 starter in six years, a roid-ragin first baseman, and Sammy SoSo last year. And I look forward to visiting that site again every day for the next six months and seeing what all the same guys have to say about this season's events.
This isn't meant as an indictment of Forums--quite the contrary as I think Forums is one of the most important things my team has done. But I am excited about the other ways we can create stickier experiences, not to mention increase the ways we connect customers and Microsoft employees.