Monday, March 07, 2005

Using Communities to Organize Information

A colleague of mine was working on a specification for a broad information-based Web portal for one of her clients. The target markets for this portal include many aspects of the industry they are serving. Thus, the information was varied and plentiful--articles, opinion, case studies, etc. She wasn't sure how to organize the information, how to create effective navigation, or how to re-organize as new info became available. I said "let the community do it." Most Web sites--even marketing-oriented sites--require the Web architect to determine how navigation should be done. The architect must understand the questions a visitor is likely to ask at each stage. Each page must be designed with many interests in mind.
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Instead, build your customer community and give them the tools to create the links for you. Let them form link nodes and share your articles (and others' stuff) with their node and all of the connecting nodes. It may come as no surprise to you, but this is what the blogsphere does. It organizes and creates navigation links for the amazing amount of information on the Web. It self-organizes. While blogs are opinion (professional or otherwise) I am finding more good research resources through my blog network than I would ever have found through google searches.
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In a customer community site, the links and associations are done outside the site, between members of the community. Content of common interest is aggregated by individuals. Other members that follow what that individual publishes are then linked in to the "related" content. does this with customer reviews and "also bought" recommendations. The organization that adopts this strategy needs to be ready to make it work. A significant amount of time is invested in content and community interaction. An informational portal company should be just such an organization.
  1. Content must have interest to your customers and target prospects.
  2. Your customers and prospects should tend to participate in networks of professional or personal opinion (I'll be talking about how to seed this behavior with your community)
  3. Your company's employees must participant in the community as recognized experts. New content will be introduced to the customer community through them.

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