When a great online community is formed, it is a glorious thing. GoodReads brings book lovers together so they can discover their next book, form book clubs, interact with their favorite authors and write authentic reviews. LiveMocha is a site where people from all over the world come together to learn, chat, make new friends and give one another feedback.
Back before the days of Facebook, I used to spend a lot of time on sites like About.com and GraphicDesignForum.com, where, when I was just starting out in my business, I was able to ask other designers for feedback on my designs and get help with business matters. Later, I spent a great deal of time mentoring others just starting out — helping them troubleshoot CSS code or suggesting the perfect font or telling them to always use a contract and never work on spec.
On those forums, I met several people whom I’ve “known” for a decade now — you know who you are — people I consider close friends though we may never have met in person, and many of them I do business with to this day. For example, I met my WordPress developer on About.com almost ten years ago, now he is a part of my daily life. My dear friend Viki reads this blog (hi Viki!) and we keep up with one another’s lives on Facebook, and so on.
When I was just starting out in web design, there literally was no “web design curriculum” at the university level. We taught ourselves and we created communities and we helped one another along the way. I came from the advertising industry and a corporate marketing environment, but when I made my first website and went to my first web conference in San Francisco back in the late 90s — I knew I had found “my people.” The advertising world was filled with dog and pony shows, smoke and mirrors; I wore Ann Taylor dresses to work and wore red lipstick. I was stressed. (No offense, advertising industry.) Web nerds were smart, they were community-minded, they were creative, unpretentious, they worked in their pajamas and they were fun.
And that’s how the internet was ten years ago. Forums and blogs were different then, businesses didn’t blog — they didn’t know what a blog was and neither did your mom — but then somebody caught on that there were search engine benefits to be had and money to be made and the web changed forever. The blogging friends I made back in the mid-2000s are still my friends but I can’t say I’ve made many new blog friends since. It just isn’t what it used to be. Get off my lawn. Where’s my cane?
And it’s not all bad, the web is still full of awesome, and many businesses on the web enrich our lives. And I wouldn’t be in business if people weren’t able to get a return on their website investment. But damn it all, I’m old-school and I mourn the loss of every great, authentic, non-corporate web community.
When a community gets big enough, big businesses get dollar signs in their eyes. Where a targeted group of people gather en masse, that’s where you put your billboard and construct your beer garden off to the side. Understandable and smart for them, but rarely great for the culture of the community. Amazon bought GoodReads and I know it made a lot of people uncomfortable, but so far they have respected the foundation of what makes this site great — the community and the ways in which its members love to interact. But here’s what happened to LiveMocha…
Rosetta Stone — we all know what Rosetta Stone is, right? If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a language learning software curriculum and I’ve used it, but personally, I found it incredibly dull and it didn’t really work for me. And, it’s really expensive so it’s not accessible for most people around the world, I’d imagine. Many of whom need to learn another language to better their lives. When I found LiveMocha, it was smart like Rosetta Stone but it had this layer of community and social interaction behind it and that’s what made it great. I was able to help people from all over the world and they helped me too, there were people from countries which notoriously don’t exactly love America but that didn’t matter in this environment — we were just people with something in common coming together to help one another. I loved that about it, that was cool.
Rosetta Stone purchased LiveMocha.com and that was totally understandable. But what they did in redesigning the site was probably the worst example of a web takeover/redesign I’ve EVER seen. Where customers had purchased premium services on the legacy LiveMocha, those were not translated into the new business model and they weren’t credited, so, basically, uh, WHAT? Then, they stripped many of the community aspects of the site and people who were very active on LiveMocha — some people spending a lot of time there each day and forming real relationships with fellow-learners — lost their ties to their friends. Basically, what Rosetta Stone did was to create a brand new business model and load up a completely new site with a database of existing “potential customers” and has completely done away with every facet of the site that made it great to begin with — the community.
So, it angers me, but not so much for myself (I was not a really active user, I am using a different language learning method and LiveMocha was more of a supplement ), but for the thousands of people around the world who have been completely cut off from a community that is very important to them. In reading this blog post and the LiveMocha facebook page, I haven’t seen a single, solitary instance of a person who is not outraged at the relaunch of this website. People are beside themselves and that makes my heart hurt.
If Rosetta Stone wanted to enter the online space, it should have had some understanding of and respect for online community. Or they should have just build their own online community. But why do that when you can demolish the competition while you’re at it?