How to Kill a Community?

Building a community of loyal, active readers is difficult, time consuming process fraught with dangers. So why, in the last 24 hours, have two major online publications put the loyalty of their communities in jeopardy? I’m not comparing the two cases, one is simply questionable behaviour while the other is downright despicable. So what am I talking about?

ProBlogger “Community Consulting”

ProBlogger Community ConsultingI’ve been a reader of Pro Blogger for a long time. Its a very useful resource on blogging written by one of the most respected sources in this growing industry. A while back they ran a community consulting feature where the readers of the ProBlogger gave constructive criticism on another reader’s blog. Fine. Mobilising a blog’s readership to help someone out is a great idea and has been used in other areas of media for a long time. However, yesterday Darren Rowse, the blogger behind Pro Blogger announced that for the next round of community consulting, there would be a charge.

I commented on the post, and said the following:

 

It seems like a fair price, my only concern is that by charging, and by charging 250 (it’s not cheap), you’re unlikely to attract the sort of bloggers who really need it. i.e. the ones who are struggling, and who’s blogs don’t generate enough income to justify it.

I would have thought that when you started the original idea one of the aims would have been to help out blogs who are struggling. If they’re struggling, they probably can’t afford the 250.

The other thing I would say is this. It’s all very well to say that it’s worth the 250 because you get exposure, advice, links etc. but to then say that Skellie deserves to get paid for running it, regardless of the fact that she gets the same as the site being reviewed (apart from the advice, of course), seems a tad contradictory.

At this stage I should point out that the charge is $250, with at least part of it going to Skellie (of Skelliewag) for doing the running. Skellie responded directly to me in the comments with the following:

 

@ Simon: I have to disagree with your logic. Yes, not every person can afford to pay $250 for something, but that’s what the consultation is worth. It’s like saying: “A ticket to a talk by Seth Godin shouldn’t be $1,000 because not everyone can afford that.” Things are worth what they’re worth — individuals can choose to buy or not. This is a blog about making money online — it seems a strange place to criticize someone for innovating in how that is done.

(I should also point out that I won’t be getting a link back to my blog from the review posts and will be doing a lot of work behind the scenes as well as summarizing and adding to the review. I think it’s unfair to suggest someone shouldn’t be paid when you’re not privy to the terms of the work.)

It’s a fair comment, and I wasn’t suggesting that Skellie shouldn’t get paid. The contradictions were coming from other comments made against the post, not from Skellie and Darren. There were comments saying, essentially, that this “consultancy”is worth $250 because of the links and traffic you will get from Pro Blogger. My point was that if they can assign some sort of intrinsic value to the links, traffic, exposure etc. then Skellie is already indirectly getting paid (although she says there won’t be a link back to her site from the review, her site was linked to on the page publicising the review). Personally, I don’t have a problem with paying Skellie to administer the consultancy, in fact I would expect to get paid if I were doing it. My issue was that some readers gave some intrinsic value to links, traffic etc. when purchased by the site being reviewed, but not for the person running it. It’s probably worth pointing out that Skellie herself, in the post “How to get 1050 subscribers in 3 months” says:

I highlight this figure (1,050 subscribers in 3 months) to show that you don’t need to have big money, the perfect niche or a staff of writers to quickly develop a 1,000+ network of loyal readers. This blog exists within a mature and crowded niche, I’m its sole author and I’ve spent nothing on marketing and promotion.

(not my emphasis)

So clearly, you don’t need to have big money, unless you want the help of ProBlogger, and the ProBlogger community.

I also think it’s morally questionable to charge for a service that will ultimately be performed by the community. This is debatable and I’m not really sure which side of the fence I sit on, but there is a question to be asked, and answered. My biggest problem with this, however, is that by charging many of the blogs who need the most help will miss out. While $250 isn’t a huge amount (especially for those of us currently enjoying the weak dollar) it’s still not cheap. The way most bloggers work, this one included, is that the budget I’m willing to spend is directly proportionate to the amount the blog earns. So if this is true of other bloggers, which I suspect it is, only blogs earning enough to pay for the consultancy will go for it. An analogy I use in another comment is that of schooling. If we charged for education, it would perpetuate the success of successful families. To explain, imagine the situation. Only rich families could send their children to school, only people who have gone to school wil have the level of education necessary to get good jobs, and only those with good jobs could afford to send their kids to school. I doubt Darren’s aim when coming up with the community consulting idea would be to exclude those that need the most help.

Like I said, morally questionable, even on a blog that is, for all intents and purposes dedicated to making money. The second example seems, on the face of it to be far more clear cut.

GameSpot

Kane and Lynch Advertimsment on GameSpotThere are numerous reports around the internet today that one of the senior editors at GameSpot, a leading gaming website owned by C|NET, has been fired. Journalism is a fickle medium, so this may not surprise you. What should shock you is the reason. It appears, at the moment, that Senior Editor Jeff Gerstmann has been fired for giving a negative review to a game that is one of the site’s major sponsors. The game in question is Kane and Lynch, which hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire (warning, that’s a link to Meta Critic which aggregates review scores. It is, however, another C|NET property, so tread carefully), which is was splashed all over the GameSpot homepage.

Jeff GerstmannThe video review Gerstmann gave was especially scathing, but seems in line with the consensus. GameSpot is lucky enough to have a very active and very vociferous community. Strangely, there aren’t any threads in the user forums discussing this. Hmmm, I wonder why.  Turns out there are lots of threads at GameSpot and other sites discussing the news.

This episode, if it turns out to be true (the fact the Gerstmann has confirmed he has been fired but not why, combined with the fact that the Kane and Lynch advertisment has been pulled, certainly adds weight), violates the sacred separation between marketing and journalism. In fact, just the suggestion that this has happened has probably irrevocably damaged GameSpot’s image. I think someone needs to remind them, listening to your advertisers is all well and good, but without an audience, no one will want to advertise with you.

Update:  ValleyWag has a piece up covering Jeff Gerstmann’s dismissal.  It seems as if a commenter on their blog is an insider from GameSpot and points to a change in management leading, eventually to this incident.  If this is indeed from an GameSpot insider, there are more worrying  things on the horizon for one of the biggest names in the business.  Most notably the suggestion that AAA titles should be given more attention, which the commenter seems to suggest means higher review scores.  So far comments from C|NET, the parent company, have done little to dampen the fire and this story looks to be heading to more mainstream outlets over the weekend.  So expect a backlash.

All this on top of FaceBook’s new policy of tracking everything you do on every website so they can better monetise your pageviews. I can actually feel the blogosphere collapsing under the weight of opinions.