"What's a URL?" and other surprising things we learned about Tribe members

Guestpost by Kirsten Hansen on Feb 27th

Migrating the Tribe from Ning to BuddyPress has been one heck of a learning process. Ariel mentioned this before, but I cannot stress how much work has happened on the back end of things while we figure out what we're doing.

A big part of this has been learning from our members. We mods and Empire staff are pretty technologically inclined and at least some of us are old enough (and techy enough) to have experienced the early internet. So we remember how things used to be (anyone else remember frames? or building a website straight from code? or the internet before Google and Facebook?). Also, because we all work with websites, we have a particular set of knowledge relating to the webz.

Many of our members, however, are in their early 20s (so sayeth the reader survey!) and while they may use the internet constantly, they take the web for granted and a lot of aspects of the interwebz seem to be misunderstood or just off their radar. This was a surprise to many of us. It's a hard thing to be reminded that your community does not always share your same web contexts or technical savvy, and we found again and again that we had to adjust to compensate.

So here are a list of things that we learned our members do not know:

  1. There is always a URL and it's worth looking at. A ton of members clearly used the Tribe tab on offbeatbride.com, never noticing that there was a distinct URL. Likewise, for the brief time members had to type in the URL to the new Tribe, there was some frustration that there was no clickable link. It's pretty common to use button and bookmark navigation, but in the case of your favourite websites, it's worth learning the URL if it's short. Rather like knowing phone numbers in case you lose your phone. (You can also get useful info out of URLs!)
  2. Advanced coding to create websites is not the norm. Not too many people have any idea how complex a thing like a realtime activity stream actually is or how much work goes into adapting a user database. All that advanced coding is super cool but there are limits to how much can be done on smaller websites (and Tribe 2.0 may be up to 2,000+ members but it's a small fish in the big pond of the internet, especially with one paid developer, Ariel, myself, and our team of volunteer mods being the whole team). Those features that seem like the norm on bigger sites may never be possible for us. But that's okay. And we're still going to see what all we CAN do. We have plans. Yes, yes we do!
  3. New features take time (and a whole lot of work). Features are advertised and they appear seemingly immediately (or they appear without warning) on a lot of big sites. But a lot of hours have gone into developing those features behind the scenes. Our developer is building awesome new features just for us (she even contributed to the BuddyPress core code!) but it takes a lot of work to create the code for those features. Then it has to be tested to ensure it doesn't cause unexpected problems.
  4. Help pages are worth a look. I think we're all guilty of this once in a while, but there is probably a help page that can answer your question. Start there! The site made it for a reason. Try Google. Experiment. Search. Your answer may already be waiting for you and may not require a personal and individual response.
  5. Pages and sites do not last forever on the internet (unless someone pays for it). Yes, it seems like Facebook, Google, Youtube and other big names have been around forever, but they haven't. Lots of sites disappear all the time for whatever reason and some of them involve the issue of money. It takes money to run a website and host content. It takes money to pay developers and staff. So if you want your content to exist forever and ever, it's up to you to save it or relocate it. If you aren't the owner of the site, it's doubly important that you keep your own copy if you can't live without it. You never know when that site will no longer exist because someone chose not to pay the bill.
  6. Not everything on the internet is instant or automated. We're used to quick load speeds, instant messages and automated responses. But that isn't always the case. Actually, it's frequently better when it isn't automated and the development process isn't hidden or instant. But that takes time. Our member approval process is all done with a personal touch so someone has their eyeballs on each and every app that comes in. That's time they're giving out of their lives to check your app, but that is time you will have to wait.
  7. Spam filters are crafty devils. A lot of email service providers have spam filters that go over email before it even hits an inbox and some of them are pretty picky. We have had no end of members not receive a validation email because it got picked up before their inbox but rarely do the members realize that their email is being filtered before their obvious spam folder. Sure, this is a nice feature, but it can also be a pain. Who knows what email you aren't receiving?

So if you manage a community, you will be reminded eventually that your experience is not the experience of your members. They don't know what you know. Personally, I take it as a chance to share some knowledge, spread a little how-to. And remind myself time and again that it's my job as community manager to figure out what our members need and adapt to them.

Read more posts about: , ,

About Kirsten Hansen

Little Red Lupine is an academically-minded geek who works in instructional technology by day and crafts by night... when she isn't playing video games or watching TV with her husband, playing with their ferrets, or cuddling their kitties. She can usually be found with her nose in a book but might just be baking something yummy instead.