Blocked Community Arteries

Online communities can form around many different technologies. But once they have formed, they can be very difficult to update, convert or move. The problem is not one of technology conversion, but rather user habits and preferences, which seem to become more solidified the longer the community has existed.

I've been reminded of this as I started to get involved with some online automotive forums. Recently I purchased an old car that I am refurbishing as a hobby. There are now fantastic online resources, with detailed illustrated procedures that are far better than the factory manuals.

You can also ask for help and people respond almost immediately, provided you don't violate the many customs and expectations. The most important of which is that you must have searched first. Since the forum I use has been around for a decade and the cars it covers are from 16 to more than 30 years old, most issues have already been covered in previous posts, often many times. This also means the veterans are intolerant of people asking the same old questions. So I search really carefully first and only if I don't find what I'm looking for make an apologetic posts along the lines of: "I have searched, but can't seem to find out how to..."

The community is very centered on classic, threaded discussions and search. Just how centered was recently illustrated by a post by a brake vendor offering to provide free brake pads to the person who posted the best explanation of why they should get free brakes, as judged by 'like' votes on Facebook. The resulting furor was really fascinating to watch.

There were a succession of 'Fail' posts. The first started:
  • "I don't have a facebook account so can't enter. Don't you have your own business website?" 
Others chimed in with incrementing posts; very quickly 18 negative votes were posted. The comment about a business website certainly illustrated that the poster has missed out on current trends. Other anti-Facebook comments included:
  • "Rarely use the FB. Don't Like"
  • "What's a facebook?"
  • "I have no plans on signing up for facebook at all, ever"
  • "C'mon, without FB how am I going to check out all the girls that wouldn't date me in 1985 and feel better now about the bullet(s) that I unknowingly dodged?"
  • "I don't "do" facebook either, and it might be a long, long time before I find a reason to sign up for it."
  • "I have some semblance of a life..."
  • "I am worthy of getting the brake pads for the simple fact that I don't use facebook."
  • "No interest in joining MyFace or any of the other ones. I'm waiting for the 'winner' to emerge. This one is probably just another fad like parachute pants and jackets with zippers all over them. Boy am I glad I passed on those."
  • "News feature today mentioned employers and now banks using FB and twitter to help evaluate the qualifications of business/job/loan candidates."
One poster was particularly incensed that the vendor had posted on more than one such site (which is a typical social marketing approach):
  • "When he posted this I went to his FB page and was pretty put out that it looked like they spammed every car forum out there with the same offer. Needless to say, I didn't "Like" this."
After this tirade, there was a tentative response from a few Facebook users. I was one of the first to point out that there was a Facebook page dedicated to this particular car, but supposed they would not be using it, which was quickly answered with an, "uhhhh... no." There were actually a couple of positive posts:
  • "I actually love facebook. It is a very useful way for me to stay in contact with many friends that I would have otherwise lost due to lack of free time. I have re-connected with old friends and use it to schedule real life get togethers. It's actually a pretty amazing site."
  • "Wasn't saying anything negative about FB, I'm on there entirely tooooooo much."
One of the final posts directed to the vendor was spot on (if sexist):
  • "Don't worry (not that you were) about the crotchety old hags on this forum somehow connecting your company to the terror threat of FB. Its just new and different, and not many here are early adopters." 

    And the last one:
  • "I found this funny on a forum dedicated to owners of 16-34 year old cars."
So they are not open to change. Which is a pity because there are newer technologies that would actually help the community:
  1. The illustrated procedures would be far better in a wiki format that could be refined over time, rather than depending on original posts with some threaded discussion additions that are hard to follow
  2. Likewise, some of the threads are really just social conversations that have little to do with the subject car. A microblogging application would be far more suitable
This well-entrenched community is very much wed to a traditional, content-centric model (threaded posts and search) and most members don't understand the people-centered, social model of collaboration. Although comprised of technically-savvy people, their preferred technology is old, as are their cars. I don't think this community is ready to change.

1 comment:

  1. ///artin that was a rather enjoyable post. Funny how we get set in our ways and become blind to other - potentially far better - opportunities and means to accomplish what we're trying to do. I imagine when chainsaws first came out there were a lot of axe-swingers that were resistant...

    Thanks for sharing/educating!
    Ken H.