eNeighbors Traffic Reports vs User Feedback

I monitor the traffic reports for our website (eNeighbors.com) at least once a day and get caught up in the upticks and downturns in traffic. The data that we can track is really helpful like pageviews and visits, which gives me a measure of the health of our site, but it lacks the intangible perspective that you get from user feedback.

In the case of South Village, they have 318 registered users on the website from 287 homes. This is good to know, but what does it mean? Can they communicate with these residents effectively? How can we test this?

One way to test this is to simply ask your users, which is exactly what a communications committee member in South Village did. He simply posted an article to see if “anyone was out there”. (An ingenious and completely tangible way to track usage and response.) I posted a screenshot of the article with the comment string below so you can see. In total, he received 86 comments, which is pretty impressive considering that there are only 318 registered users on the website. Anyone who blogs knows that this is a tremendous response rate.

I think the response was awesome and it gave me a great feeling that their website was so frequented. The comments help to give better insight into our user’s attitude and feelings about eNeighbors that you cannot get from traffic data. The comments also solidify our feelings that our automatic email newsletter and other notifications are working to promote traffic and usage.

Some of my favorite comments include:

  1. I try to log onto eNeighbors at least once a day when I can, because I want to know what my fellow homeowners are discussing. I don’t always respond to postings, as I am just one Board member and don’t represent the views of the Board as a whole. What I do is try to find out what topics are generating high levels of interest among homeowners so that, if necessary, we can include these topics in future meeting agendas.
  2. we read weekly and sometimes more! love this!
  3. We read it regularly. Thanks for taking the time to do it.
  4. Wouldn’t miss it for the world. 🙂
  5. Yup, we read them as soon as something is posted..
  6. We’re tuned in. Thanks.
  7. Hello – I look at this quite a bit – especially since I get the alerts regularly.
  8. I read this site whenever the email informs me of new posting. I set my account to receive email daily from EN.
  9. I look up eneighbors every day when I am home (I was out last two days).
    I do read all the postings and the comments that follow and make notes on them, but usually do not make any comments. (Any comments I make are my own and do not represent the Board’s views). I do believe that all Board Members do read the postings on eneighbors.
  10. I read when I see new things that I want to hear more about. (Get the reminder weekly.)

 

Is there anyone out there?

Censorship and social media

In April I posted an article about content moderation, a feature of our website that allows a board member to review information posted by residents before it is published on the website. In it, I recommend that board members do not utilize this feature and allow residents to freely communicate, so long as no one is violating the Terms of Use or the law.

As a follow up to that post, I would like to provide board members with an alternative to content moderation in this post.

The video below is titled “How social media can make history” and it is 15 minutes and 48 seconds long. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, scroll forward to 12:27 into the video for the relevant part where Clay Shirky shares a story about MyBo.com, the social networking site that the Obama Campaign established during his campaign and how Barack Obama responded when the registered users of the site were not too happy with him about reversing his decision on the Foreign Intelligence Surveilance Act. He didn’t shut the site down, he didn’t make it harder to register, he didn’t moderate the content. Instead, he simply told them why he decided what he did and let them use the service to talk about it. The speaker in the video concludes with this statement:

“They [the Obama Campaign] had understood that their role with myBo.com was to convene their supporters, but not to control their supporters. And that is the kind of discipline that it takes to make really mature use of this media.”

The alternative to moderation or censorship is to operate transparently and openly by communicating. Let your residents know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

A partial transcript is provided below between 12:27 and 14:30:

“We saw some of the most imaginative use of social media during the Obama campaign. And I don’t mean most imaginative use in politics. I mean most imaginative use ever. And one of the things Obama did, was they famously, the Obama campaign did, was they famously put up MyBarackObama.com, myBO.com. And millions of citizens rushed in to participate and to try and figure out how to help. An incredible conversation sprung up there. And then, this time last year, Obama announced that he was going to change his vote on FISA, The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He had said, in January, that he would not sign a bill that granted telecom immunity for possibly warrantless spying on American persons. By the summer, in the middle of the general campaign, he said, “I’ve thought about the issue more. I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to vote for this bill.” And many of his own supporters on his own site went very publicly berserk. It was Senator Obama when they created it. They changed the name later. Please get FISA right. Within a day so of this group being created it was the fastest growing group on myBO.com. Within weeks of its being created it was the largest group. Obama had to issue a press release. He had to issue a reply. And he said essentially, “I have considered the issue. I understand where you are coming from. But having considered it all, I’m still going to vote the way I’m going to vote. But I wanted to reach out to you and say, I understand that you disagree with me, and I’m going to take my lumps on this one.” This didn’t please anybody. But then a funny thing happened in the conversation. People in that group realized that Obama had never shut them down. Nobody in the Obama campaign had ever tried to hide the group or make it harder to join, to deny its existence, to delete it, to take it off the site. They had understood that their role with myBo.com was to convene their supporters, but not to control their supporters. And that is the kind of discipline that it takes to make really mature use of this media.”

Please comment with your thoughts below. What are the benefits of moderation? What are the costs? How do you operate your neighborhood website and why?

Can You Make Money With Local News?

MediaShift Idea Lab posted a great article by David Sasaki last week titled: Can the Knight Legacy Lead to Sustainability? David’s final thought/question in the piece was this:

But is it Sustainable?

The Knight Foundation is single-handedly making citizen media both more serious and more respected by giving financial support to some of the field’s most innovative thinkers.

But is this a sustainable model for the transformation of media? What happens when the News Challenge’s five-year funding period concludes?

All of the News Challenge grantee projects are impressive, innovative, and important, but not a single one is turning a profit, nor do they seem poised to any time soon.

There is a fundamental truth that we are fast approaching — all media should be free. This includes, news, entertainment, public records, etc. Just look at what’s happening in the music industry. The signs are all over the wall…

Subsequently, this belief in freeing the information is driving the traditional news industry into the ground. Controlling the information has always been the key (I think of the classic Redford movie, Sneakers). But the old ways of controlling and distributing the news are falling apart.

The info on the web is so disseminated, that I can get news from pretty much anywhere… so what drives me to get it from any place in particular? At risk of sounding like the corporate-driven, cube-infested, dilbertesque workplace that spawned me — it’s the value-adds.

If I can get news any time, any way, and from any location I want AND (and, folks, that’s a big “and”) also access services (from local businesses) that make my day-to-day life easier, why would I go anywhere else?

The key here is relevance and location. News that matters to me, services that help me around the house, and an online network that makes my life easier right where I live in the real world — these are the exact things that just recently were so explicitly illustrated by Newspaper Next’s news report from the American Press Institute. It was best stated as such:

“The place I go to be part of the fabric of life here [where I live].”

eNeighbors wants to help us get there. The icing on the cake is, yes, we are profitable, and our plan is to continue to be so in greater proportions. That is exactly why we have applied to the Knight News Challenge. We believe our goals and community-oriented nature are in perfect alignment with the Knight Foundation’s vision.

So, to answer David’s question, eNeighbors hopes to break that non-profitablility mold and help lead the way for the next level of online journalism and real-world community.

Big Brother Is Bigger Than Ever

With the growth of online social networks, electronic data, and increasing broadband adoption across the globe, there has been a parallel increase in the risk of your personal information being exposed to whoever wants to take a look.

The websites you visit, what you buy online, the communities and discussions you contribute to — all of these pieces of information are part of the ever-growing mountain of data that advertisers and corporations are dying to get their hands on.

Recently, Facebook has come under a lot of criticism for its feature called “Beacon” that tracks what you buy online outside of Facebook, and then tells your friends about it. Now, I do understand the concept Facebook is trying to accomplish — if I like a product enough to pay for it, then that’s the ultimate recommendation. Adding Radiohead as a “friend” on my profile is one thing, but shelling out $80 for a box set of their latest music speaks volumes.

The catch here is that we don’t like the feeling of being watched. If I want to tell my friends about the products and services that I like, I want to do it in my own way. Not have an automated feed of my buying habits revealed to my family and co-workers on a daily basis.

Privacy is important to everyone. Feeling safe when you are online and feeling like your personal information is secure is crucial for anyone to engage in online social networks.

We found this to be the primary concern for the neighborhoods that we began to set up over three years ago. Privacy was number one. Residents of a community wanted to be sure that their information was secure. It’s one thing to create a profile on MySpace or Facebook where the majority of your interaction is virtual, but users of eNeighbors interact with the people that literally live right across the street.

That’s why we take privacy and security very seriously at eNeighbors. You can be sure that we don’t expose your information to anyone, and you are in complete control of how you choose to participate online. Our ability to grow and promote local community revolves directly around the level of trust the members of that community have with us. We want people to open up and interact with their neighbors. In the end, everyone wins if we all feel safe — especially in our own homes.

eBay Neighborhoods

The recent release of “Neighborhoods” from eBay sort of confused me at first. Initially, I thought it was geo-specific way of finding eBay items for sale in your area (or neighborhood). This is the sort of thing that eNeighbors has been doing on a limited scale with our current online neighborhood classifieds.

However, the eBay neighborhoods are in reality nothing more than groups that share a common interest. Here’s one for the Nintendo Wii. I’m not sure why they called it “neighborhoods,” but once you get past the label, the concept is a very interesting way to connect like-minded individuals who are buying and selling a specific set of products. The local commerce space has recently been making great strides online, and I’m glad to see eBay contributing to the cause.

You can keep up on the latest at the eBay Neighborhood blog.

Friends List: Face-to-Face or Virtual?

Information Week has an interesting article up titled “5 Keys To Social Networking Success” by Andrew Conry-Murray.

One of the five keys is that successful social networks should facilitate interaction among a close-knit, pre-existing circle of companions who have existing relationships. In other words, I should be able to find my friends on the site.

But there’s an exception to this rule…

“The exception to the friends characteristic are groups that coalesce around profound experiences, such as pregnancy and childbirth or a cancer diagnosis. These groups form expressly to connect with strangers who are sharing the same experience. However, other characteristics certainly apply.”

What I like about this is that eNeighbors is the perfect example for the exception rule. You probably don’t know every person that lives in your neighborhood, but you still share common interests, goals, and concerns.

The other great thing I like about Andrew’s explanation of the exception is that this common experience connects these previously disparate people. eNeighbors takes it a step further — you can literally connect with these people right outside your front door, face to face.

I know, it’s shocking to think of real, physical interaction with people in this ever-increasing online world. Maybe that’s the defining point of a “highly” successful social network. After all, that’s what MySpace started doing with band concerts.