How Should We Treat Communities After We’re “Done” With Them?

That makes two.  Pownce, the original competitor to Twitter, has just been obtained by blog platform company SixApart.  This, on top of I Want Sandy and its company Values of n being purchased by Twitter just last week.

On the surface, they have little in common other than the loose micro-blogging components that they share.  One’s a Twitter-like system purchased by a blog company, and the other is a contextual assistant with powerful tagging, obtained by Twitter itself.

There has, however, been somewhat of a backlash on how the closings of these technology communities have both been handled.  Users of I Want Sandy bemoaned the idea of finding a replacement that could come close to what it does (and actually started a chain on their community boards suggesting comparable alternatives).  And while there’s just a small, devoted group of people on Pownce, its members are wondering why the service would be shut down after being obtained – and in need of clarification on why it had been obtained in the first place.

Both were purchased because they have a useful core technology that can be semi-applicable.  Right now, as I Want Sandy and Pownce exist, they serve only a minor usefulness to the companies that purchased them.  But with some re-application, both of these technologies could be game-changing enhancements to both Twitter and SixApart.

Who knows, maybe Sandy’s technology might be a way for Twitter to begin to have a better, more contextual tagging system.  By having a system that can understand context, finding conversations by topic and being able to tweet with people that are talking about what’s on your mind would be extremely useful to the company.  After all, Vaues of n’s mission was “to help people collaborate and get organized.”

Or – another one – Pownce could be implemented as a way to create a more social blog that competes with Twitter – perhaps as a way to make comments more real-time.  I’d argue that the lack of real-time communication and the inability for users to conveniently aggregate and respond to blogs comments is one of the reasons why conversations are now moving to Twitter.  So, by re-purposing Pownce’s core, SixApart might be able to move conversation back to blogs in order to stay relevant as personal online communication evolves.

The point is that there’s an inherent value in purchasing these technologies and folding their developers and information architects into these pre-existing companies to enhance their products.  Right now, all of the old communities see are their technologies – and their communities – being shut down, with nothing to show for it.

It’s these people who should see their beloved ex-platforms turn into something great.  At the very least, explanations – and possibilities – should be shared with them.  But I’d argue that it should be these very people who are included in the process of transition.

If you were the purchasing company, wouldn’t you like to have a loyal base at your disposal – who would become dedicated members of your own service as well?  Wouldn’t you want to keep them as users to help perfect the implementation of their technology in Beta testing?

I suppose it’s something to keep in mind: how we handle online communities after we help grow them is just as important and as valuble as how we handle them as we build and maintain them.

UPDATE (9:11 AM): Some users from the I Want Sandy community have decided to re-create “Sandy” through open-source methods.  Members are lining up to contribute to the project, which indicates just how strongly the community felt about this service (they are, after all, re-building it) – and just how much of a lost opportunity there was in the way the closing of the service was handled.  Take a look here: http://sandysback.blogspot.com/2008/11/progress-being-made.html


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