Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A larger online community is not always better

I always love going back to London, as it gives me the chance to catch up with friends. One such friend is a serial entrepreneur, learning and improving his art with every new venture. His ideas are a source of constant lively discussion and debate, especially when enjoying a local brew. Currently, he's directing the technical side of a social networking site for avid readers, called BookRabbit. Since I knew nothing about the site, we started chatting about its target audience, who was using it currently.

The BookRabbit site is a platform for the broad target audience of 'avid readers' to get together and discuss the books they are currently reading and their favourites of all time. It uses the cool concept of taking a photo of the reader's bookshelf and tagging it with the actual identification of the books on it. This provides the starting point for seeing who else has your taste in books, then providing the tools to build a reading relationship with them. Its a nice idea that has drawn a population of thousands of active users.

So our discussion of the target audience started... The site is targeted at the UK, through design. I initially guessed this design was a technical limitation around the book catalogue the site could use for all book references, and it seemed odd to me that you would limit your potential user base through something as 'silly' as a technical limitation! After all, would it not be better to open your audience to the US, with the potential of adding maybe five times the population? The answer as it was explained to me was 'no', and I have learned something important from this.

The BookRabbit site is targeted at 'avid readers in the UK', since there is just a far better chance that these readers are reading the same books and have similar interests to share. This is what makes the community work. By attempting to bring in the US book catalogue, and a US user base, the community would be diluted, or at least split into distinct groups that would be based on geographical, rather than interest-based boundaries. That makes for a bit of a disfunctional (or rather unscalable) approach to building a community, since the geographical users do not gain much benefit from the presence of the other country and the technology does not automatically enable their presence.

OK, lesson learned. Don't assume that more users makes a stronger community. BookRabbit is smart for sticking to its guns. And I have learned a little more about the marketing and mechanics of social networking sites that are based on specific interests.

So if you are an avid reader in the UK (or at least with a strong interest in British books), and you want to share your reading experience with like minded individuals, take a look at BookRabbit and upload your bookshelf.

A post from the Improving It blog

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