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One thing is for sure -- just because you launch an online community doesnt mean people will use it. Since community software has been around for a long time, most people think its a no-brainer. But nine times out of ten, people underestimate what it really takes to build something great -- be it internal or external. Much like e-commerce, companies think that its something you can just "turn on." Some even attempt to write their own software.


Whatever you decide, save yourself some pain and keep the following things in mind:


*1. *Take the time to be smart


It takes anywhere from 2-6 weeks of planning on the front end of launching or re-launching an online community depending on your scope. Make sure you budget for it. Have an outline of what your plan should include. Set benchmarks -- who else is doing a good job? Why? Be sure to check out the landscape.


2. Draft clear blueprints


Sounds simple, but like anything else, it takes focus and your team's alignment about what you're building and its business value. There is not always agreement on your target audience, why they care, and how you'll measure success. Be sure to identify your internal executors and their precise dependencies -- otherwise what should be last steps can stretch to miles. And be clear about what youll do with your communitys output and what technology is the best for your goals  switching technology later inevitably frustrates your members.


3. Work to emulate "real life"


An online community has the same rules as a real-life community. Prospective and long-time members need to feel like it's built for them, and all the right ingredients are there. That means it should 1) resonate with the members, 2) be easy to connect to others and to helpful answers, 3) have a sense of member status, and 4) the interactions should create value. If it's not intuitive to do these things, people leave.


4. Reward people and content


Active community participants care deeply about their status in the community. Most companies greatly underestimate this and dont have a solid plan for how to reward members to motivate the right kind of contribution (and more people to contribute). If reward is not tightly tied to community-perceived value, then the system can be easily abused and the community can get upset. As well, make it easy for the community to create content, reward the content thats most valuable and have the power to expose that content to other members.


5. Make it ok to not be ok


For a community to thrive, everyone should feel like they can speak up. If the content is too hot or too cold, people wont add value. No one wants to be flamed. No one wants to join something lifeless. You have to provide a place that members can be opinionated and honest. Be sure you think through what you will and wont allow so you can provide an environment that feels true for everyone. And if you plan to have a corporate voice within the community, make sure it's "of the community" and not perceived as heavy-handed.


6. Easy does it


You knew this one would be on the list, didnt you? No one wants to learn how to participate, how to find answers or how to connect with the right people. These should be effortless and intuitive. Otherwise people give up or try other channels. While a lot has to do with software selection, a big part is how you stage the community and plan for growth. A short "how-to" can help, as long as it's simple and straightforward.


7. Stock the shelves


Think of content like groceries. Theres a shelf life, a value, people have to find it and it needs to be well merchandised. Not to mention that when you start one from scratch the shelves need to be stocked when you cut the ribbon. So, seed high-value content in the beginning. Do what you can to make sure that content is easily recognized as from you or from other community members (or both). And make sure that youre working the produce long after opening day.


8. Manage the store


Someone (emphasis on one) has to manage the store. They have to be in charge of the community. Make them accountable for being the companys ambassador to the community and being the voice of the community to the company. Like anything else, if theres not a clear leader things turn to mud.


9. Fearlessly listen and respond


Early warning can make a big difference. The more your company listens and responds to your members, the more members will stick with you. Look for a system that can notify you (and others) even if you're not in the community. Empower your community manager -- they should have an internal audience so they can surface whats happening in the community and get the right people involved. The manager should be able to offer community members quick resolutions when they need help. Build in automatic escalation, so if a question goes unanswered, an internal resource will make sure it gets closed. Sending members some cool t-shirts or other perks always works, too.


10. Make it you


Lastly, your community should reflect who you are. Get your company involved. Make sure its exposed and promoted heavily. Engage your brand owners to help ensure that the way it looks and feels rings true to your community. Be sure to find something you can customize and then take the time to do it. Design it as an extension of who you are as a company -- your community members will repay you tenfold.

How We Manage Our Website

Posted by bill Mar 17, 2006

We recently relaunched our website and with that we changed how we manage content on the site. Before, the website code (Java classes, JSP pages, HTML, images, CSS, etc) was checked in to source control and usually one developer (sadly, me) would have to make all kinds of changes. It was a really inefficient process and not sustainable the bigger we grew. We needed a system where non-engineers could edit the pages, see their changes easily and deploy the changes to the site without my help.


First, we use an open source template framework called Sitemesh. This allows our guys to write very basic HTML and not worry about things like the header, footer, sidebar, etc. Sitemesh takes the output of a JSP page (or anything that serves up HTML), parses it then merges it with a template.  You can have any number of templates in the system, all mapped to patterns or various other things. This is a pretty simplified description of Sitemesh -- overall, it's a very powerful and extremely simple framework. As I mentioned, it'll handle anything that produces HTML so it's compatible with PHP, Perl, ASP, etc. We use it in our products to make templating easy and to keep the JSP pages clean.


Next, I created a Subversion hook to do automatic deployments of our content when a check-in is received. (I got the idea for this from an Ars Technica article.) Subversion is our source control and a hook is a way to execute a script based on an event like a check-in, update, etc. Local to the machine is a checkout of our site code. From there, the hook script calls an Ant target to deploy the latest JSP/HTML code. I only deploy JSP or HTML in this step and not Java classes or config files. Doing updates to the core source is less frequent and ususally requires a server restart.


Finally, we have a checkout of the site project on our internal file server (Linux + Samba). I also use that checkout as the web root for an internal staging site. Since changes are picked up automatically, our guys can edit the files on the file server then reload the page immediately in their browser. After they make their changes, code is checked in and automatically deployed.

!!We just did a webinar on how to use the Fastpath IM system for working with customers and I thought I'd share a snippet from it. Below are some best practices for using IM with customers, based on our customers' experiences and our own. In no particular order:

  1. Use skills-based routing: Make sure to capture the right metadata and get it to the right person first. To the extent possible, try to emulate your organizational structure. For example, if your sales team is structured by product line, use the queues/routers to send product requests to only that product team -- the failover queue can be the other product team, but do the best you can at getting it right first. Sounds obvious, but many companies send messages to any salesperson available.

  2. Take Advantage of Co-Browsing: A powerful tool, if used correctly. Make it easy for the customer to follow along with your thinking and point out the relevant information on each page.

  3. Timeout: 5 minutes max for the session timeout, and 30 sec offer timeout for each agent. People get frustrated after more than five minutes of waiting.

  4. Make icon / purpose clear: The position of the "chat now" icon on the site is important. Make it obvious and specify whether it is sales or support.

  5. Set and communicate policies: On invitations and transfers. The goal is the best combination of first-contact resolution percentage (keep high) and escalation percentage (keep low).

  6. Review the transcript: If you transfer or invite another another agent, that agent should start by reading the transcript (and the history if possible). Dont make people repeat themselves. This is one reason why it's better than phone service -- you have a real-time log of the conversation.

  7. Bulk up Content: Anticipate all the needed responses and provide the right content in advance, using a Knowledge Base, canned responses or any other tool that can provide content quickly.

  8. Use it Sparingly: Following from #7, don't use canned responses for everything. Make it personal (use agents with good conversation skills) and use a consistent voice for the company.

  9. Build rapport: Especially for sales agents, you want the conversation to be lightweight and comfortable. People are used to IM being a more informal medium, so heavy-handed sales tactics can create mistrust.

  10. Analyze and Improve: Managers should be reviewing the logs and metrics often and using them to improve. It's also good to employ secret shoppers (fake customers) and to monitor the sessions in real-time.



Earlier this week, I attended IBM Partnerworld.  The show was hosted at the beautiful Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas.  Both IBM DeveloperWorks and IBM Partnerworld divisions use our software, so we wanted to attend to show our support.  DeveloperWorks has implemented Jive Forums and PartnerWorld has implemented Spark FastPath (formerly Jive Live Assistant) product to allow partners to contact technical support for server implementations.


The ironic part of the show was that the network on the show floor kept losing connections, and even worse was the performance of the network in the hotel rooms.  Not sure why this happens at conferences. Maybe it's the thousands of attendees clogging the lines.


While the booth traffic was underwhelming

(thanks to being blocked by a big map of the show floor), the people who stopped by understood the value of having a good internal community solution.  In addition, when I explained the value of Spark Fastpath and being able to route internal IM questions to the appropriate people, their faces immediately lit up and could see their thought process going on how their organization could use that type of functionality.


Most tradeshows give out bags and reams of paper, but not IBM.  They handed out free cellphones with Windows Mobile technology.  The phone came embedded with a web application allowing the attendee to view their customized schedule (via the web), provide feedback on sessions, and view all the possible activities at the show.  At the end of the show, attendees were able to keep their phone and just drop in a SIM card to use it as their normal cellphone. A paperless conference, how cool is that?

We have a few 4 open positions right now so I thought I'd take a minute to describe each.

  • IT Engineer (pdf)
    I think this is more than the average sys admin position. You'll be the sole IT person and besides helping our employees you'll be in charge of setting IT direction, working with some great technology (Linux, Asterisk our VOIP system, Solaris) and helping us with our software release process. Oh, and did I mention we'll set you up with a shiny new MacBookPro?

  • UI Designer (pdf)
    This position has the potential to have the highest impact of almost any of our jobs. We love great UIs and we hope you love creating them.From the req: "Were looking for an insanely talented and versatile web designer to help drive the look and usability of our next generation of collaboration applications. The right candidate must be passionate about web applications and user experience and have the skills to put it all together using Photoshop, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and AJAX."

  • Support Engineer (pdf)
    I'm really amazed with the support team we've built (don't take my word, others think that too). This is a chance to join that team and interact with our customers on a daily basis. It's a very technical position and we guarantee you'll learn a lot.

  • Senior Software Engineer (pdf)
    This is a chance to join our core development team. You'll work on our major products (Jive Forums, Jive Knowledge Base) and you'll be able to make significant contributions to product direction and implementation. Raw engineering talent is important but we're also looking for someone interested in developing solid products and working with customers.

If you're interested, please with a cover letter & resume. For more info, check out our jobs page.


Guy Kawasaki's recent post on naming hit home, where we've been scrambling to come up with new names for the products. Much like naming a new child (which I'm also struggling with right now), every name sounds ridiculous when you repeat it a few times. In our experience, the arc of a brainstorming process leads to the following types of names:

  • The practical: Names that aren't the most exciting, but get the point across, like our renaming of Live Assistant (also practical) to Spark Fastpath. We leverage the Sparkbrand and add a literal extension (a "fast path" to the right person or answer).

  • The evocative: Names that are more creative, but evoke feelings that you want associated with the product. Wildfirefits into this category -- it fits into fire theme and gets across the feeling of spreading quickly.

  • The "Left Field": Some of the coolest brainstorms are have nothing or very little to do with the subject, but happen when people pick up a magazine and point to words like "foghorn" or "gargoyle" (which I just did).

  • The "mildly humorous": As the brainstorm reaches its limit, the process gets goofier and people will riff on the fire theme with names like "Two Sticks".

  • The Insane: Finally, as the donut sugar crash occurs, the brainstorm fades into oblivion. My favorite names to come out of this process were "Fire Beaver" (Beavers are big in Oregon) and "Purple Unicorn". Some of the Web 2.0 companies might actually start at this part of the process.


SAP: Tight Race for Points

Posted by djhersh Mar 8, 2006

Scott Campbell, our VP of Sales, was at a community summit in the Bay last week, where Mark Finnern from SAP's Developer Network talked about some of their stats. According to Mark:  "Since rolling out Jive Forums with integrated point system the number of posts increased by 525% within 12 months. At the same time a 6X DECREASE in the medium time to first reply from 12 hours to below 30 minutes."


They've done a great job building a streamlined, connected community, and they've obviously got a pretty good starting point with that many users around the world....but the interesting thing to me (and a big part of why they've seen the participation levels they have) was the neck and neck race of the top 3 users. Normally we see one untouchable person at the top with a ludicrous amount of points. Having a tight race makes it much more interesting, and I'm sure provides a lot more motivation to stay on top. Creating that race is tough, but it's got to pay off in the long-term.


Jive Ski Bunnies

Posted by sam_lawrence Mar 7, 2006

[|photo sharing]To celebrate exceeding 2005's growth goals, we all hit the slopes last Friday in what may end up being our First Annual Ski Trip. A quick bus-ride later, everyone geared up and spent the whole day snowboarding, drinking and scarfing buffalo wings. Well, that is, except the Marketing guy who's bum knee stranded him in the clubhouse with the laptop (not to mention a wireless router configured to prohibit HTTPS access...hello!).


Have a look over our ski pics.

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