In that piece, I found her "bar analogy" for social software to be simple yet compelling:
You could think of it like your favourite bar. The social function is similar. You don’t go there because the beer tastes different than from in the bar next door, but because of the people who are there. The value of any bar is in its clientele – usually dependent on the owner/manager and the bartenders, whose job is it to care for his guests. Then you can charge for the beer, or if you sell coffee, the coffee... Some retailers sell clothes, for example, and give free coffee. Both are good business models and can work... or they can be done badly, and fail.
People who aren't already caught up in an on-line community often fail to understand the allure. They seem to think that the virtual nature of the community somehow structures the interaction in a way that precludes the sort of intangible things we're used to in face to face communities.
One of the stories I'll have to tell in more detail after my service at Yahoo is complete (and likely just a footnote in someone's book) is about the Flickr acquisition.
During one of the final internal "sales pitches" for the purchase, I had finished demonstrating Flickr to some important Yahoo's that weren't as familiar with it. One of the technical leaders in the room suggested, politely, that it was a waste of money and that "we could build this in six months."
I honestly don't remember if I responded to his assertion in that meeting or not (I think I did), but to me he was wrong and missing the point. Yes, we could have replicated the technology in six months. Heck, we probably would have improved it quite a bit. But we didn't have the experience to replicate the "feel" of the early Flickr community.
It was a lot like suggesting that you could build another bar across the street from the famous Cheers and expect it to be just as successful.
As for being simply wrong, our ability to build it in a few months didn't matter since nobody was working on it and there were no plans to do so. (Insert rant about how the seldom the "build" option is really exercised after the "build vs. buy" debate concludes that we should not buy.)
Like Flickr, del.icio.us has its own character. Much of that comes from its creator(s). The same is true of MetaFilter (and Ask MetaFilter), Slashdot, Kuro5hin, Upcoming.org, and so many other community driven sites.
But it's hard to see this from the outside. Esther's bar analogy is helpful in bridging that gap.
Posted by jzawodn at February 27, 2006 11:03 PM