Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Dangerous World of Web 2.0

Today's link is to an article on Alertbox, Jakob Nielsen's forum for making dogmatic pronouncements about good website content and design:

Web 2.0 Can Be Dangerous

The section on community comes in the middle of an article full of crotchety old man denunciations of what kids nowadays are into. Don't get me wrong, Nielsen makes some good points; if you're being led around by the nose by the latest technological fad, your site will suck, no doubt about it. Good design and content strategy are key, and ultimately it doesn't matter whether it's wrapped up in Ajax or plain ol' HTML. Still, there are a number of points where Nielsen gives in to Angry Old Man syndrome and throws the baby out with the bathwater. For instance, his reason why you should avoid user-generated content:
"On the Web, most people are bozos and not worth listening to."
Nielsen makes a common mistake here: he presumes that people need to be worth listening to. In fact, there are very few circumstances in which the quality of your community's discourse actually makes much of a difference. If you're trying to put together the next Wikipedia, for instance, you'll need to provide some sort of a quality-assurance mechanism. And if your user comments could somehow put your company at risk, through legal liability or other means, then you'd need to do some quality checks. But otherwise? Mostly irrelevant.

Consider forums. A successful forum is one in which people make lots of comments. Doesn't matter if their comments are the stupidest thing you've ever seen, an active forum is a good forum. Same goes for community blogs; with the single exception of comment spam, you don't really care if the blog posts and comments are full of crap, just so long as they're full.

Or consider user-generated content, like videos. Have you seen most videos on YouTube? They suck. No reason at all to watch them. But there's so damn many of them up there that quality is there to be found on nearly any topic, and so the community thrives. I can guarantee that there are just as many bozos posting to YouTube as Nielsen imagines, but that is quite irrelevant to the actual success of the site.

So bring on the bozos. As long as they're actively engaged with other bozos on your site, you have a community that is engaged and drawing repeat traffic.