Steady state community

March 29, 2013

Amazon’s purchase of Goodreads, a social reading community, has reminded me of the difference between building a community and building a business. Goodreads definitely could be a value add for Amazon and the Kindle, yet unless they treat it with a light touch it could become far more of a Goodkindlereads.

Companies will happily sell for millions and risk the evaporation of their communities, especially if current earnings aren’t that cracking. They also might start to commercialize a community in the way Twitter has, or close down a useful platform because it didn’t make much cash.

Just look at TinkerCad, the in-browser CAD environment for creating 3D models. It was a fantastic use of technology and very useful for me from time to time, yet now it is being retired - I suspect because the earnings never matched up to the time, money and effort invested.

Wikipedia’s occasional funding drives are an interesting case. The complaints from people fed up of seeing Jimmy Wales’ face peering at them asking for donations act as pretty great promotion. The oft-repeated alternative is to become advertising-driven for some/all of the site’s income - yet much of the benefit of asking ordinary people to donate is that they feel personally invested in the project.

I’m really just trying to work out where the differences between for- and not-for-profit organisations start, what we can aim for and how people can depend on cloud services that can die out of the blue as compared to desktop software that still works a decade after it’s authors are out of business.

I hesitate to say that all true communities would need to be non-profits, that all platforms are nothing of the sort and so forth - but I do wonder.