Friday, 27 June 2008

Has Community Server lost its hearing or its bearings? Or both.

It will soon be two years since we put what was a huge amount of effort into selecting community software which would meet the needs of our website users.

Admittedly there was an element of boring "can we support it (ie is it .NET)" kind of questions which effectively auto-created a short-list but we have been more than happy with outcome - Community Server 2007.

Its functionality - forums, blogs, photo galleries and file downloads, plus a sprinkling of friends & favourites elements (although users haven't found much use for the latter) - generally outweighed the downsides - paucity of documentation, patchiness of support.

So we purchased two enterprise licenses, rolled our sleeves up and got down to rolling it out. The users have loved it and three of our titles- Flight Global, Community Care and Farmers Weekly now have thriving and active communities.

Since then Telligent (which owns the product) has shifted its focus towards the more commercial uses of its product (Personal and Business licenses are no longer available, for example). Community Server now powers the MySpace forums and can now be integrated with Microsoft's Sharepoint. Big league stuff.

That should be good news for us.

But somewhere along the way Telligent seems to have stopped listening to its existing customers.

To be fair it has always been quite difficult to get their ears: at one stage I resorted to emailing individuals only to receive auto-generated replies saying "You do not have permission to send to this recipient". Wonderful customer service.

But their most recent release - Community Server 2008 - suggests that they either haven't listened to their existing customers at all or possibly aren't interested in continuing to meet their needs.

Although it has some great new features (groups, widgetization of sidebars, a new focus on friendships), they seem not to have taken into account the way the implementations are being used.

One of the major bone of contentions is that the Photos and Documents sections have been combined into "media galleries" and in some ways that's quite attractive - media neutral, extensible and so on.

But for sites such as Flight Global which have a large user base uploading photographs to their Flickr-type personal galleries it is looking like a disaster - Telligent have removed some of the things our users really liked about it - having a personal, highly visible image gallery in which to show off their own photography, being able to watermark their pictures so that they don't get ripped off.

We are not the only ones to be concerned; there's considerable disquiet on the CS forums about the new media galleries.

I was struck by some recent blog posts from long-term supporter of Community Server - Ben Bosacker. In one he reports:

The project that I will be working on is using CS2007 and the customer has made a firm decision to not move to CS2008. The major reason that I and others are considering this is because upgrading to CS2008 is a major undertaking and it is also a major change from the original direction of CS.
And in a subsequent post he is clearly aghast at the architectural changes which Telligent has applied in Community Server 2008:
So, the bottom line here is that until CS2008 supports database storage for all objects, I cannot recommend its use to anyone. Stick with CS2007 if you have it and do not upgrade. If you upgrade, there is a very good chance that you will lose quite a few objects just like my client did. Also, the URLs for all objects have changed, which means any existing links to CS2007 or ealier objects would be broken after the upgrade. That in itself could cost you hundreds of hours of lost time to correct on large systems.
Did Telligent talk to any of their customers before doing this? Why have they not been clear about these implications of the CS2008 upgrade?

As holders of two enterprise licences (20 sites), I'm sure we aren't their largest client, but nor I imagine are we the smallest. Now that they have groups functionality on their website, perhaps they could set one up for their customers so that we can engage in a dialogue with them? Or just moan.

Actually, I think the sensible thing for me to do would be to set up a "Disgruntled Telligent Customers" community on Ning and see how we get on.

In the meantime, if you know of a great piece of community software that is based on .net do let me know. I have a feeling that there is a lot of work (again) for me on the horizon.

Electronic books

Sorry for the lack of communication of late - sometimes I wonder how people find the time to blog, I really do.

Anyway, slightly off-topic but I'm quite captivated by this report on the New Scientist blog about a new prototype electronic book. What's interesting is that this new prototype is more like a book than, for example, Amazon's Kindle because it is hinged like a paperback and apparently "initial user reactions were positive".

The two leaves can be opened and closed to simulate turning pages... When the two leaves are folded back, the device shows one display on each side. Simply turning it over reveals a new page.
What next? One you can drop in the bath? One which adopts a "more thumbed" appearance when you upload a much-loved book onto it?

Just looking at the video below I can imagine how comfortingly similar to a book it is. Strange. Counter-intuitive in many ways. Will electronic newspapers and magazines have to make similar emotional concessions to attract users?

Friday, 20 June 2008

Farmer Frank does live chat Q&A.

There's no stopping the folks at Farmers Weekly now they've discovered CoverItLive.

Last night they conducted a "live surgery" with their very own antediluvian agrilebrity agony aunt, Farmer Frank.

Highly successful, by all accounts, with more people pitching in with questions than the poor old boy could cope with.

An imaginative use of the chogging software by the Farmers Weekly team. Brilliant.

You can replay the Q&A here.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Getting a reputation

Thanks to Jim for pointing out this useful summary of reputation systems published by Yahoo.

We use several of these in our communities - sometimes all at once because we (by which I mean "I") don't really know our nascent communities quite well enough to know which (if any) pushes their buttons or - indeed - whether reputation matters to them at all.

But now that Yahoo has gone to the trouble of offering us a simple guide, maybe it's time to put some more thought into it...

10 Deadly Sins of B-to-B Publishing

"In a keynote at the 2008 FOLIO: Publishing Summit in Miami, Hanley Wood CEO Frank Anton outlined the what he called the “10 Deadly Sins of B-to-B Publishing,” noting that he has committed every one."

In case you don't have time to watch the entire video, these are the 10 sins:

  • cosiness
  • technophobia
  • complacency
  • niggardliness
  • cowardice
  • dullness
  • under-performance
  • disorganisation
  • cluelessness
  • inferiority
One or two of them sound familiar...

Find more videos like this on FOLIO: mediaPRO

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

RBI Community Editors Live Chogging

From 9am today, three of RBI's Community Editors (with a little prodding from me) are live chogging (that's part-chat, part-blogging) their day here.

We would love you to take part by asking questions or offering comments and advice - no registration or login needed.

Why are we doing this?

Lots of reasons:

  • To show people inside and outside our business what an RBI Community Editor does (this is a relatively new role for a traditional publisher). Who knows - someone might even be inspired to apply for a job here.
  • To get input and feedback on our community management activities.
  • To test-drive the CoverItLive live blogging software.
  • If all else fails, to have a bit of fun.

Who are we?

Simeon Brody
Community Editor, Community Care's CareSpace

I became Community Care's community editor in July 2008 after several years working in news.

My main job is to look after CareSpace, the community bit of the website, getting involved in discussion, promoting it in the magazine and fighting off the odd anti social work troll.

Currently popular topics on the forum include child protection, care of older people and The Apprentice.

I'm also responsible for Community Care's internal and external blogs, letters, e-newsletters and audio and video content.

In my own time I enjoy making short comedy videos and wearing a false moustache. My favourite cake is a Bakewell Tart, closely followed by a Battenburg.

Stuart Clarke
Community Editor,

I moved to in June 2007 after an unfortunate sea bass incident meant that I couldn’t achieve my dream of becoming the next Ultimate Frisbee champion of the North of England.

My role is to manage the AirSpace community section of the Flight Global website – which includes forums, blogs and photos (an extremely popular section of our site) , plus I manage our 11 industry blogs (with more in the pipeline) and other community and multimedia content, such as video, social networking and social bookmarking.

I have been Community Editor for for a year now and have enjoyed the challenges of both learning a new industry and creating a sustainable online community. Each community is never the same, having its own drivers and quirks and qualities, so it has definitely required constant hard work and dedication to keep the momentum going. It has been exciting experience though, with plenty of new lessons learnt along the way!

In our first year we have achieved over 1,400 new users, which isn’t bad, but we see the potential that the site has and know that there is still a long way to go!

Isabel Davies
Community Editor, FWi

I moved to the job of Farmers Weekly’s community editor in July 2008 after eight years working on the title’s news desk.

My role is to manage the FWiSpace community area of the website – which includes forums, blogs and photos – along with editing the community section of FW magazine. This section can consist of up to four pages of letters per week and contributions from regular columnists.

Contrary to popular opinion, many farmers are online as they are happy to adopt new technologies - tractors are expensive, sophisticated machines – the job isn’t all chewing straw :-) .

Agriculture can also be an isolated profession, so the 3,200 registered users of FWiSpace find it a useful way to seek advice or just let off some steam. Photographs – particularly of large machines – are also popular.

I like to regard myself as part of the online community and not just the admin. I’m a farmer’s daughter so I enjoy and understand the subject matter and like to take part in conversations. Members are slightly perplexed by the fact that our offices are based in Sutton rather than a converted barn in Devon, but they seem to appreciate the glimpse of London-life that I offer them. I try not to mention that I am frightened of cows.

Andrew Rogers
Head of User Content development, RBI

I'm a bit of an interloper on here as I'm not actually a Community Editor.

My rather grand job title disguises the humble objective of encouraging our magazines and websites to create online spaces where their communities (what we used to call "readerships") can congregate and interact, share, blog or do whatever they want to do (within reason) with each other.

I've been working with the wonderful characters above to help our erstwhile somewhat traditional publishing company to gain understanding and confidence in what is generally called social media.

But really, of course, this is all about people - helping them communicate, share and even make friends. For a company whose traditional publishing activity is posting our readers a magazine every week or month, that's quite a culture change.

We are all learning every day. It sounds trite, but it really is very exciting to be working in this industry at the moment. Exciting and just a wee bit scary.

Before this role I was web manager for and before that a freelance writer and editor.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

RBI Community Editors Live Blog - Friday 13th June 2008

On Friday, 13th April (gulp!) some of RBI's Community Editors will be live-blogging their day.

We're doing it for a number of reasons: to raise the profile of Community Editors (and what they do!) in RBI; to explore further the potential of CoverItLive and to have a bit of fun.

As a visitor to the blog you'll be able not only to see what they are up to, but help them out with suggestions and ask questions.

Signed up to take part so far are:

To be reminded nearer the time, just fill out the form below: