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

February 27 2012 | Guest post by Kirsten Hansen
By: Julian Stallabrass - CC BY 2.0
By: Julian StallabrassCC BY 2.0
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.

  1. Great topic to go over. Digital divides and teaching technology are big components of the Library and Info grad program I'm in. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are growing up with the Internet as an extra limb without understanding the basic mechanics of it. If that makes me sound Internet-elitist, let me say, I have been one of those people, part of the first generation to have an online-childhood yet only now truly understanding the ins and outs of it. Learning how facets of the web function, and learning how and why they developed that way, is endlessly empowering. This is especially true when it comes to tech-based issues like privacy and data ownership; you are better armed for discussing where you stand on such issues when you've had a little peek behind the curtain. Thanks for raising the curtain a bit!

  2. This learning process was FASCINATING for me and Kirsten to muscle through. As someone in my mid-30s, I guess I've always assumed that people 10 to 15 years younger than me would speak code as a second language — but instead, I think I'm finding that technology has gotten so slick and seamless and "just works" most of the time that younger readers who've grown up with it just take it for granted.

    For me, I've compared it to car maintenance. Back 50 years ago, used to be that many folks changed their own oil and knew how to change a flat tire. Sadly, I'm that person who just waves their arms around and says "It's making a weird noise!" The comparison isn't perfect, but it's helped me be a bit more patient when I hear from folks who don't understand what a web browser is. ("Wait, you want to know what web browser I'm using? I don't understand — do you mean Google?")

    • This was a big topic for me since I'm now in instructional technologies and dealing with using tech for teaching (and I hang out with library folk too!). So I have had to educate myself about the technology levels of students as well as instructors (and go figure, I found out students are maybe not as technologically literate as expected, or are, but in ways that aren't expected). Like Ariel, I just assumed people who grew up with the internet would be more familiar with how it works behind the scenes, not just on the surface. I think my perspective was a bit screwed up since I hung around with a lot of people who did build computers or switch out components, who built websites or tweaked things.

      So from a community management standpoint, it was a really big reminder not to assume things about our members, especially knowledge or skills. They aren't part of our community because they're tech geeks, they're part of it to plan a wedding. Some are tech geeks, but lots aren't. And that is okay. It just means that my job has become more tech-support than ever before.

  3. This is really interesting! I am able to use technology (unless you believe the IT guys at my old workplace, but I say that was their fault for not fixing the whodackys and letting the whatsits break) but I'm still fairly techno-illiterate… though I hide it so well -_-

    I know enough to remember URLs but as for coding? I go blank. But I have learned stuff through this process too – the tutorial on embedding Flickr photos into OBT posts has helped me find a much better way of embedding photos on my blog.

    I never would have known how to do that without the tutorial (which I had to read like 5 times before I actually remembered what to do on my own).

    So, in the wise words of Ralph Wiggum, YAY! I'm learnding!

  4. I'm 26 so my computer/internet knowledge is right on the cusp. I don't know code, but know urls and browsers and those kinds of things. I remember in 1995, our class had to create a picture of the American flag using code and it was SO HARD! It took us 2-3 hours to make that flag and half the time you could see a blue block where a white one should be and you'd just slam your head against the desk and spend even more time finding where you went wrong and fixing it. I'm hoping that coding has gotten easier since then, but I really have no idea.

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