Let me share a secret. My interest in RA accounts for only half of my interest in talkRA. The other half of my passion is exploring how cheap modern technology can open up new possibilities for communication and interaction. The RA community is niche, geographically distributed, and not particularly wealthy, making it a perfect testing ground for comms innovations. Also, we work in telecoms, so there are no excuses for not eating our own dog food!
The experience has taught me a lot about what techniques work and which do not work. It has also proven that empiricism beats theory every time. Never mind what I think will work, and never mind what you think either! Neither of us knows what forms of communication will lift off, and which will crash land. To find out, you have to try things. So, after mocking your ability to forecast what will be successful, I am curious to hear suggestions for what talkRA could do next… and what you might like to do next, if given the chance. As far as I am concerned, the crazier and more unexpected the suggestion, the better. But before you send your answers on the back of a postcard (or, preferably, as a comment to this post) then let me briefly review what has been attempted so far, and some activities that we are unlikely to compete with.
- Blogs. Well, duh. But it is worth a mention because we do it well. Looking at the Alexa rankings, talkRA is the top RA blog in the world. Why? My belief is the site’s popularity comes down to one simple proposition: a high turnover of informative and entertaining content. Yeah, that may sound arrogant, but when the choice is this site or a blog where every post is selling you training, or a blog where every post is selling you software, then it is not hard to be relatively informative and entertaining. Maintaining this site’s quality is very important. That is why, despite the desire to increase the volume of posts even more, we will never do what GRAPA does, and issue an open call for literally anyone to write a blog. Otherwise you end up with the depressing experience of reading Henry Whyte’s blog: first post = hello world!; second post = my plans for 2009 and why we should all blog more; third post… there is no third post. And yes, I know GRAPA creates lots of sites just so they boost their rankings through all the spurious links between them, but good content beats everything.
- Podcasts. This has been quiet for a while, because they are a pain to schedule and produce. However, they were surprisingly successful, even when erratic, and I expect they would be successful again, if resurrected. In short, there is a smaller but very hardcore audience that wants to hear interesting people saying interesting things about RA. If blogs are enjoyed during a 5-minute break at the desk, podcasts are enjoyed for an hour at 30,000 feet. The trick, then, is to find high-quality guests (and to let them do most of the talking whilst I stick to asking questions).
- Twitter. The use of Twitter has been stop-start, but in recent months the practice of feeding all blog posts to Twitter has driven a big growth in website traffic. Those dedicated tweeters seem to find it a useful form of news ticker, whilst they also spread the word on the posts they find most interesting. However, one thing we have not done is to foster and encourage unique posts in the Twitter community, or to reverse the flow and bring Twitter posts into the website.
- Facebook. This format does not seem to work for RA. People will join, as proven by the absurd accident that was the Facebook RA group (which I created just to stop Rob Mattison grabbing the name). People joined, looked in, but did not know what to do. Which brings us to the next interaction format…
- Online forums. Morisso Taieb got first mover advantage as soon as LinkedIn enabled people to create forum groups, and he has never looked back. He leveraged his long list of contacts and the inherent advantages of the LinkedIn proposition to maximum effect. Well done to him. As a result, he attained critical mass, and there is no point competing with him. Everyone who has tried has been a miserable failure in comparison. To try to compete would be like firing up a new star in the immediate vicinity of a massive black hole.
- Wikis. Though it would be tempting to set one up, and these have been successfully deployed to aid RA in some telcos, I find it hard to believe that a wiki would work for the RA community in general. I have seen wikis fail even when they address topics that appeal to lots of hardcore teenage internet nerds. Wikis work if there are plenty of freaks with a passionate desire to do the right thing. Hence, Wikipedia works, Wookieepedia works, but the RA page on Wikipedia degenerated into a spam bucket abused by scum buckets.
- Email. This is hardly a new technology, especially when there are news reports saying email is bound to be replaced by better comms technologies in the next decade or two. However, it still serves a purpose, and could be made to work harder for RA. Those ubiquitous emails selling little blue pills actually result in people buying more little blue pills, and GRAPA’s spam was the bedrock of its promotion. In contrast, talkRA’s reliance on word of mouth puts us at a disadvantage. I have always steered clear of spamming people for one basic reason: I hate spam. But should we relax our position, and let people subscribe to email newsletter-digests?
- Video. Considering the absolutely lousy figures GRAPA used to get for its podcasts, I have been surprised that some of its YouTube videos are now approaching the 500-view mark. However, there is no way to measure how many of these were multiple views by the same person, or the result of artificial promotion to existing GRAPA-philes/fools. Their most recent video has much less impressive numbers, which makes me think that even the silliest person will eventually realize that watching adverts is a waste of time. Videos are an obvious outlet for GRAPA: creating infomercials is just a natural part of their business model. In contrast, Tony Poulos’ video interviews are very interesting, whilst avoiding hard sell. However, Tony is backed by a different business model, and it does not apply to talkRA either. Could it be worth the trouble for talkRA to offer its own online videos? Would they be interviews, like the podcast? Or tutorials? Or some other kind of bulletin? And what would be talkRA’s motive in going to all the trouble to provide online video? I am not convinced we will ever deliver video content, but it would be interesting to know what other people think.
Did I miss something? Is there another interaction technology that is sufficiently widespread and popular that it could be harnessed for the RA community? Is there something new and unproven but which is worth the gamble to set up? Feel free to interact… by leaving a comment.