Hacking The Flip – A Quick Lesson In Community Building

I’ve been an Flip Camera owner for about a year now. I’m actually on my second one. I started with a 60 minute Flip Mino and then sold it and upgraded to a 120 minute Ultra HD a few months ago. The great thing about The Flip cameras is the simplicity. Fits in your pocket, simple interface, drag and drop video files, easy upload to the web. The simplicity in a few minor areas, though, is also a pain. The 2x zoom is limiting and when you hold it at arms length (which is exactly what you want to do when you want to be in the shot) and it crops tight on your mug. There’s no Flip Camera yet that allows you to attach a wide angle lens. Fortunately, people on the web are quickly finding their own solutions to the problem and helping each other out by uploading YouTube videos and writing blog posts etc about how to make the camera do what they want. Do a quick Google search for “Flip Wide Angle Lens” to see what I mean. There are tons of people out there who are happily duct taping and super gluing wide angle lenses on their cameras to get what they want.

Brian Shaler‘s come up with a particularly elegant solution using a cheap magnetic lens converter…

What strikes me as odd here is that Cisco hasn’t seemed to have caught on. They might be listening, but they certainly haven’t made changes to their product based on the huge volume of “hack your flip” YouTube videos out there that tell a consistent story about what people want from their cameras. Why the hell wouldn’t you just slap a cheap lens adapter attachment on the front of one of the higher priced models and sell cheap wide-angle lenses on your site?

There’s a great lesson here about listening to the web and building community around products the right way. Connecting with your customers and building strong, loyal communities starts with understanding how people are actually using your product, not about getting them to conform to the way you want them to use it. If people want your product to do something that it doesn’t already, they will find work-arounds and share them on the web, which expose the short comings of your design AND connect your users in places where you can’t control the conversation. If I were Cisco, I’d seriously consider creating social spaces online for their hacker community to share their content.  There’s obviously a large segment of people who are so happy with their Flips that they’re willing to SUPER GLUE bits and pieces on the front and keep on shooting away. If you give those individuals a place to find each other, they all find the best hack, and they’ll be happier customers for it. And guess what…if Cisco joined in the conversation in these spaces and reached out to their hackers, empathized and told them that they’re working on the issue, they could direct those individuals to sign up for a free email notification list where they could find out about new product releases and Cisco would suddenly have a hyper targeted group of loyal customers to tap on launch days that they could easily please with special launch day offers etc etc.

Smart companies treat feedback groups (like the Flip Hackers) as an asset that can be nurtured, developed and used to their advantage. Strong, loyal communities don’t have to start out as die hard fans.

How To Say Thank You On The Social Web


[tweetmeme]Whether or not you chose to acknowledge it, your ability to sink or swim on the social web depends on how you participate, engage others and embrace the customs of the virtual gift economy – this is as true for individuals as it is for big brands who have a web presence.

The concepts of “FREE as a business model” and sustainable gift culture generally makes sense to people in the context of products, services, brands and community building, but the understanding sometimes breaks down when it’s mentioned in the context of individual relationships and social media. Seasoned vets know that there are a host of unwritten rules and customs for reciprocating that we should follow when we benefit from free content and receive help and advice from others on the web. I’ll discuss some of those rules, explain why they’re important and offer some ways to act on them below. Read More

The Cookie Jar Principle


[tweetmeme]Give more than you take. It’s as simple as that. If we embrace this one powerful principal in our lives, individually we will enjoy meaningful, vibrant relationships and collectively create a culture of abundance. If we can’t, we end up with an empty jar.

We can all point to a friend or colleague who breaks the rule repeatedly. They call only when they need something and they only show up or participate when it benefits them. They forget that the act of taking from the jar implies that they will one day put back more than what they took. In many ways selfishness is failing to recognize that when you chose to benefit from the effort or contributions of another, you become part of a self-sustaining cycle of give and take, and that your actions alter the system’s balance. In the fog of self-absorption we can loose sight of the truth and reality of the circumstances of both others and ourselves. When we take more than we give, everyone that depends on the contents of the jar loses.

Remember that every one of your relationships has its own jar. We fill them with our time, energy and love. Sharing, participating, and giving before we take signal our good faith – they are small promises that when it is our turn to take, we have not forgotten our responsibility to keep filling the jar. What we do take, we should always strive to return with interest. This simple principal is as true for individual relationships as it is for groups, families and communities of any size. When we agree to be a part of the group, whether the group is 2 or 2 million,  we accept an equal and shared responsibility for the jar.

Twitter Is Apple’s Support Forum

The iPhone 3.0 upgrade software was just released and, within minutes, #iPhone and #iTunes popup on the trending topics list as the iPhone community rushes to their computers to upgrade their phones. Between the time I ran the search and took this screenshot, there were over 1000 new twitter posts mentioning #iTunes – literally in the space of a minute. Hundreds of people are all having similar problems, asking questions, helping each other. Amazing. And Apple is no where to be seen in the stream. Lesson learned…get your community manager and techies monitoring Twitter when someone pushes the “RELEASE” button. Read More

Built It, Then Make Them Experts

There’s a lot we can learn about best practices for creating and releasing software or web services to the masses from watching the video gaming industry. Successful video game companies know how important it is that they engage and immerse users quickly because they know they aren’t just in the software business, they’re in the fun business, and there’s nothing fun about sucking at a game. Recognizing this, they’ve developed innovative methods for getting complete novices engaged and enjoying the product as quickly as possible. I call this the “zero to fun” metric.

Getting a user from zero to fun as fast as possible isn’t just a gaming industry must. Everyone wants to enjoy the experience of using software and the web, and how much we enjoy the experience is largely a function of how adept we feel as users. Making a user feel like an expert is key to making their experience remarkable, and for that reason, giving a user that feeling quickly should be one of the primary goals of any company releasing software or web services to the world. Read More

The Glue Community Gets What It Asks For

I hope you didn’t miss this in the wake of the Web2.0Expo excitement this week. AdaptiveBlue released a few major upgrades to Glue yesterday that the community is no doubt going to love. These guys consistently show how in tune they are with what their community wants and how committed they are to delivering value to the users (it’s all about the community, right?). Here’s what’s been added…

  1. Connected Conversations (see video 2 below)
  2. Smart Recommendations (see video 1 below)
  3. A Slimmer Glue Bar with more information
  4. Slick integration with Twitter, Tumbler and FriendFeed right from the 2 cents box (see video 2 below)
  5. Automatic synchronization with your entire social graph via Facebook and Twitter
  6. The ability to see who the top users are in each category and follow them around the web. Read More

Status Culture – Public vs Private and Why It Matters

[tweetmeme]I recently made the decision to stop feeding my Twitter posts into Facebook. The reason is simple – I continually get negative feedback from my non-Twittering Facebook friends on how I update my status. Some hated how often I updated, some didn’t get what “@” and “RT” was, some didn’t like that they couldn’t join in on conversations that weren’t actually taking place inside Facebook’s walls, and some people didn’t like how “impersonal” most of my updates were (I use Twitter like a shared feed reader a lot).

Not all the feedback was bad, of course – I don’t mean to exaggerate. I’ve gotten quite a few Facebook friends into Twitter because they noticed the difference in how it’s used and saw the value. No, my choice was because there’s a significant difference in status culture between the two platforms, and, because I’m a heavy Twitter user, I would continue to violate social rules inside of Facebook (and piss off my friends).

Recognizing the emerging differences in status culture is an important step to understanding how people behave on either platform and how we can shape interaction with good design. In this post I’ll offer some insights into the differences between Twitter and Facebook, how they change people’s behavior, and argue that the differences in public-ness and prive-ness cause fundamental and important shifts in how people interact and use each platform.

Friends vs. Followers: How We Group Contacts And Establish Relationships Matters

How we establish and organize our relationships makes a difference to how we interact on any platform. The design of the connection mechanism drives who we (can) connect with, how we connect, and how we display our (implied) relationships (and social responsibility to others). Makes intuitive sense, right?
Read More

Designing Remarkable, Viral Widgets

Image Credit: http://opengardensblog.futuretext.com

Image Credit: http://opengardensblog.futuretext.com

As the popularity of blogging, social media and open source development continue to explode, widgets are taking root as a mainstay of the online social experience. The interdependency of self-publishing, social media and open source platforms are ensuring that widgets, those bits of code that allow us to aggregate, publish and share a wide variety of different content/information in one place, are here to stay. In fact, the rapid growth in online cultural trends like lifestreaming, microblogging and social browsing is creating increased demand for ways users can pull information from a diverse array of profiles and information sources, aggregate them and publish them quickly and easily. Said simply, widgets help us glue the web together, and as online social ecosystems become more complex, and as web sites and web based applications rely on more underlying services, widgets will prove to be a core component of the self-publishing culture and infrastructure.

For all of these reasons, we can estimate that companies will continue to throw a lot of time, money and energy at creating widgets and widget-like applications that online goers want to use. That said, not all widgets are created equal, and only the very best widgets spread (which is the whole idea). In this post I want to explore what makes a remarkable viral widget and offer developers some design tips…

#1 It’s Not About You.

Widgets that are perceived as ads rather than tools lose, plain and simple. Widget design should always be about the publisher/user and their content. Developers can put a small trademark on it, a link back to their service and a “grab this (for yourself)” button, but that better not be the focus. Subtlety in marketing is critical. It’s easy for developers to get excited about building an “ultra viral” widget that promotes the heck out of their service and brand, and it’s natural to want to put their mark in a prominent place that steals the show. Big mistake. Widgets that win put the user’s content front and center. Self-publishing isn’t like fashion. There are no label whores. Users want to highlight their stuff, not yours. The moment a reader sees a widget, interacts with it and THEN thinks “can I get one of these and do this myself?” is the point that they’ll start looking for a trademark. That moment should be the first time they notice your marketing. Viral is about the utility of the tool, not the marketing.

#2 One Size Fits Few

If you think you can make a popular one-size-fits-all widget these days, you’re dead wrong. The one-widget-for-all model is dead. More and more amateurs are diving into code and are customizing their blogs and social profiles in all kinds of different ways. People know that creating a unique web site design is key to blogging and online-social success. Radical individualism IS the norm when it comes to web design. For that reason, users want widgets that fit in a variety of spaces to fit THEIR unique design, so make it easy for them to get what they want. Developers should consider designing an easy to understand installation wizard that allows users to easily create a widget of any size they chose TO THE PIXEL, no matter how wacky. Flexibility will win out over standardization. Maybe even offer a few shape-formatting options. Help them look good and they will love you for it. You’ll be sewing the seeds of evangelism.

#3 Make It Customizable & Reflective of The User’s Personality

Personalization and being different is everything on the web. Widgets need to fit that trend. Give the publisher every facility you can to personalize the widget so their instance of it is different than any other user’s instance.  This could be as simple as letting them select a fixed color scheme OR as complicated as pulling the user’s account data in from other services (for example, FriendFeed’s feed widget pulls delicious tags, twitter updates, Flickr photos etc all into one feed).

#4 Dynamic, User-Created Content Increases Engagement

Giving people tools to make their site(s) more engaging should be a primary goal of every widget developer. A lot of developers out there seem to forget this, which baffles me. Good widgets are useful tools for the user FIRST and branding for the developer a distant second. Users should see an obvious value proposition when they ask themselves “How can I use this to enhance MY brand/message/content mix?”. On the flip-side, readers who engage a user’s widget are asking “What does the information this widget delivers say about the author?” If the answer is “nothing”, reader engagement completely vanishes and wont return. You only really get one chance to convince a reader that your widget is something they should pay attention to (and might want for themselves). If they decide that it’s not, readers will simply remember that the widget is there, and that they should ignore it and skip to primary content. Ad blindness works the same way. It’s the developers job to turn a widget into a node of interaction, and the way to do that is to allow widget users to create and display THEIR content with it. When readers see fresh streams of dynamic, user-created content in a widget, they’ll remember it, return to it and interact more.

#5 Make It Simple Stupid and Easy To Maintain

Simplicity of installation is just one part of the challenge. Making a widget easy to maintain is the other. To keep a widget engaging, a user needs to keep creating dynamic content, which is not easy these days given the complex array of things we do online in any given day. Developers need to be sensitive to the fact that most people who blog and use social media are dying for simplicity – many have too many accounts and use to many services to manage it all consistently…the time and effort required to add yet ANOTHER widget (and new behaviors) that they need to manage will (in most cases) lead a user to decide against joining your widget community at all. Widgets that win will allow users to create content by doing the things they already do. For example, a widget that showed the most recent items in my Netflix queue would update automatically as I updated my queue in Netflix, and not require any additional work on my part. AdaptiveBlue’s widgets are a great example of this.

#6 Individualization and Community

One last point before I wrap up. Widgets often represent a user in a greater community  – sometimes they act like a badge that identifies the individual as part of a tribe (think mybloglog). Although I’ve discussed above how making a widget personal and customizable is important, developers should also remember that if a widget is about community building, allowing users to highlight their affiliation and status within that community is also very important.  People don’t want to just stand out from a crowd, they want to belong to your community. Let them show that affiliation proudly.

In short, the above are just some thoughts I have on building great widgets based on my experiences and observations. What are yours?