The Fall of Features, the Rise of Community

I’m not usually one for all this Web 2.0 cheer leading nonsense so I don’t tend to catch those sorts of news and announcements, I don’t read TechCrunch or any of those other “look a new AJAX doohickey!!!11one” blogs. This news though from Zooomr about the recruitment of Thomas Hawk as “Chief Evangelist” managed to catch my interest.

Do I think the world needs another Flickr? Not really, although competition can be good for users so good luck to them and I hope they do well. It’s not the service that has me interested, it is the recruitment of a blogger as employee number two.

If you don’t know about Zooomr it is widely reported in two ways

  1. Flickr-beating features
  2. Developed by a teenage wizz-kid

The first is debatable, they don’t have any where near the traffic of Flickr yet and a lot of the features seem to be novelty rather than usability focussed, but I can forgive all that. There is no doubting that Kris Tate is a talented programmer and it is certainly good for PR that he is only 18. So they have a couple of hooks for PR. Are these two points enough to build a business around? Considering they are up against Yahoo! and Google (Picasa) … Probably not.

That is why they need Thomas Hawk.

With a big wad of VC cash a marketing agency could put together a campaign highlighting all the ways that the service is better, faster, cooler, sexier. You would see lots of slick advertisements and potentially a good number of signups. You still wouldn’t have any more a viable business than when you started.

Google with their Picasa service doesn’t need to try very hard to get publicity and even less effort is required to get people to try their service out. They are Google, that is a fact of life. Some people will use it just because it is Google, others because Google is on their radar and nobody else is. Business media will talk about it because it is Google, and they will speculate about the impact on share price. I still think Flickr will come out top.

Zooomr and Google might beat Flickr for features, although that is not certain, but Flickr have a trump card. Flickr have a community of raving fans. While Google have employees that mingle in the community their culture is apparently a fair bit more old-school relying more on PR spin than actual customer interaction (or some would argue, customer service).

You will have seen how many digital camera owning bloggers have Flickr strips right on their homepage. Whenever there is a world event now someone will have snapped it and tagged it at Flickr. It can’t be missed, can’t be avoided, and it is now wired right into the web culture. I regard my Flickr photostream as important to me as my personal blog, probably more so lately. This is all despite Flickr not particularly having the best photo-sharing features and not being first to market. Their strength is born out of their being part of the community and fostering that community.

Thomas is a good blogger, a good photographer too. He knows what he liked about Flickr and what needs to be done at Zooomr (personally dropping an ‘o’ would be a good start, hehe). Whether he succeeds or not will remain to be seen but I think the idea was a smart one and I hope other start-ups take note. It’s not all about features and benefits now, if it ever was, you have to be part of the community.

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5 thoughts on “The Fall of Features, the Rise of Community

  1. “They still have 4% of the computer market”. My point exactly. Emphasis on “still”.

  2. Yep, I can see what Apple’s fans have done. They still have 4% of the computer market, which is about the same they have had for years. They are only rabid among themselves.

  3. You are right, it would be stupid not to blog about product X in a corporate blog. But on the other hand blogs are not a real hard selling tool but a communication device. A blog might help to build trust in the company but an existing community like Flickr is very static and it will be very hard to get people to switch from product/community Flickr to another service. Again, it is stupid not to have a corporate blog as an easy and cheap communication channel … Hello World outside the USA … somebody listening 🙂

  4. It depends on the blogger. Look at the good Scoble did for Microsoft. Look at the good Apples rabid fans evangelism does for that brand. You can’t beat word of mouth done right. It can backfire if it becomes another PR mouth piece but done correctly this could be the best move they could have made.

  5. Despite the lack of features and despite their disrespect about rights-management and despite their ‘funny’ policies Flickr is the number one community where a web savvy photographer has to be. Over and out.

    Publishing power, inside knowledge, search engine respect, networking, short reaction time, and intelligent management of corporate news. That’s where corporate blogs can and do develop their strength.

    The community gives a web service the critical mass to withstand all efforts from the competing services to set up similar services with the same success. The critical mass of consumers is not willing to follow every new fashion.

    If a blogger can help people to switch from service to another? I am not sure …

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