Saturday, June 21, 2008

6/5: Richard Anderson,

Richard Anderson joins us for breakfast by Skype to tell us about his project,

Anderson says newspapers have to expand to become community hosts. To understand what he means, think of the difference between a lecture and a trade show and how differently you would organize each. If you were organizing a lecture, you'd get a big hall with a stage and lots of seats, a podium, a microphone, maybe some special lighting. Everything would be set up to focus attention on the presenters and separate them from the audience. If you were organizing a trade show, you'd arrange for lots of booths in a common hall, chairs more dispersed and arranged for numerous simultaneous small conversations and just plain resting between visits, maybe a few larger spaces set aside for feature presentations. You'd create a much more interactive, fluid space which exhibitors and visitors alike would customize—exhibitors with their various displays, visitors with their different patterns of movement and attention throughout the exhibit hall.

We can see the same distinctions between newspapers and real community websites. Newspapers follow the lecture model:
  • main speakers (the journalism staff)
  • passive listeners and underwriters (readers and sponsors),
  • fixed presentation stage (the printed paper).
Community websites (at least the juicy participatory ones we're trying to create) can follow the trade show model:
  • shifting roles: an exhibitor may take a break from her booth and walk around for an hour to learn from other exhibitors. A visitor may strike up a conversation with a vendor and find himself pitching his own business to the vendor. Likewise on the community website, you may go from a reader to a writer, a learner to a teacher, in a second. An advertiser may also jump into the conversation, or may just sit back and learn from the chatter among other readers about her services. Everyone is a partner, able to participate in a number of ways.
  • instant interaction: Q&A is not a separate time at the end or a limited space on page 3. Interaction is everywhere, all the time!
  • less control of message: the trade show creates a space where a lot of talk takes place that may not fit under the narrow definition of the show's mission but which serves as community glue. There are also a lot more people deciding what to talk about, and they may talk about everything, not just the highlights preferred by the editorial board or Chamber of Commerce.
To make a "virtual community expo" like this work, Anderson says you need to be an expert on your community while remaining a peer and partner. You have to be able to see the big picture, but you still stand in the place where you live.

Worried about that message-control thing? Don't be: remember that trade shows work even with competing products and services on display, even with some vendors talking smack about other vendors in the hall. We can compete and disagree and still thrive.

Anderson echoes Matt Thompson's comment yesterday: Attitude is more important than technology!

Some business nuts-and-bolts: Anderson finds a key to's success is letting businesses post whatever and whenever. He has 300 businesses that pay $19.95 a week (that's $1000 a year per biz!) for the privilege of posting items to front page BizOffers® column. Heck of a deal for instant interactive ads that no other medium can offer.

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