How Competition in Social Media Creates a Loyal Community

June 26, 2009

Everyone’s heard of Facebook and Twitter. In fact if you ask someone for a few examples of social media, these two will be the first couple you’ll hear, perhaps with Myspace in tow. Let’s mix it up a bit. In this post I’ll walk you through just a couple sites that I frequent which use the idea of social media in a different and extremely effective way. Instead of simply allowing for interaction within the community, these sites use the idea of competition in conjunction with high quality, user-produced content to maintain members which are even more faithful than those of sites like Facebook.


Threadless is my primary source for clothes online. They produce undoubtedly the coolest graphic t-shirts available on the web. The funny thing is that every t-shirt they sell is produced by the community. Threadless is essentially 99% community based. Anyone with an account can submit a design for judging. The designs then go through a panel from Threadless who then “ok” it and pass it along to the community. The design then spends about a week being judged by the community, the judgment options going from 1-5 as well as the coveted “I’d buy it” button, which is essentially a 6. If you happen to click the “I’d buy it” button and the design later gets made into a t-shirt, you’ll get an email letting you know. After the judging process Threadless choses a few t-shirts from the top rated. They then release 10-15 shirts a week, with limited numbers available. Most of the shirts sell out before the next release. As a result of this system, Threadless has created an extremely active and competitive community. Certain designers who have been repeatedly published are well known, and the rest of the designers strive to reach their level of renown. But their fame is only as a result of the participation of the rest of the community. Threadless essentially intersperses producers and consumers, with the consumers spurring the producers towards higher quality while filtering out the lower quality work. Through the inclusion of competition within community, Threadless creates an extremely strong cult audience, which is maintaining, producing, and purchasing their products.

Reddit & Digg

Reddit and Digg are competing social news sites. They both have an extremely simple structure. You post a link to a story or really anything at all. People start to view it, and then based on the quality of the link, they either upvote or downvote it. Below the link itself is a comment section which is essentially a forum where people comment on the story itself within the confines of the reddit or digg community. Then people can similarly upvote or downvote your comment based on its quality. The different site gives all these processes different names, but they have the same purposes. Ultimately, the simplicity of this system ends up putting only the best quality links on the front page. If someone looks at that link, because of the system, they’ll only see the best discussions and comments on the link. This system is in itself competitive, but reddit takes it a step further. Reddit has something called “karma points”. This system sticks with the theme and is extremely simple. Every time you get an upvote, you get +1 karma point. Every time you get downvoted you lose a point. Here’s the description from reddit’s FAQ.

“When a particular item is promoted or demoted, the user who posted it is either rewarded or punished — a system of editorial karma. In the same way that popular submissions are voted to the top, the individuals who post them get increases in karma. Every redditor affects one another’s karma equally, regardless of his/her karma. Although democracy isn’t perfect, this experiment should supply the public with the information they demand while also rewarding those who provide it.”

The karma system creates a sense of competition as well as a sense of community. Members are more likely to downvote or upvote in the interest of maintaining the quality of the karma system of which they are a part. It’s karma.

The Lesson

How does a website get a community rather than just a group of regular users? These sites are just a couple examples of how competition is one factor which can really connect users, making them work together for you while competing against each other. Without the strong communities that they have, sites like Threadless, Reddit, and Digg would never be able to be completely run by the community.

How Twitter Can Make History

June 25, 2009

Time for us to enjoy another video from the great intellectual resource that is TED. This time we’re watching Clay Shirky, a veritable “internet philosopher”, talk about the internet as a new form of media, and its place in our world. Or rather, our place in its world. I’m posting it here because it interestingly parallels the very first post I made on this blog.

Disclaimer: The video is about 17 minutes long. In the interest of appeasing our ever shrinking attention spans and the lack of free time in the work day, I’ll give you a quick summary. Read it with the knowledge that Mr. Shirky does a much better job presenting his points, and with the plan to watch the video later.

Basically, Shirky starts off by talking about the evolution of technology as a social tool. He describes how social technology, from the printing press to the telephone to the television, are effective either as 1 to 1 communication or as 1 to many communication. The Internet is the first vestige of many to many communication. He also explains how Internet’s nature is to absorb all other past forms of media, which we see occurring now and will surely see in more abundance in the future.

Mapping the Internet

Mapping the Internet

According to Shirky, the key to the “many to many” communication of the internet is the fact that it allows everyone to be both a producer and a consumer of media. Whereas with something like television, a message was crafted and then distributed from a relatively small group of producers to the wider consumer audience, with the internet, anyone can say anything they like, and anyone else can receive that message. The benefits of the simultaneous consumer/producer role was evidenced through the recent earthquakes in China. Shirky explains how citizens using the internet were the first to report the earthquakes which China traditionally tries to cover up. We also see the benefits of social internet through the protesting in Iran. Our traditional media outlets have been cut off from reporting in Iran, and as a result, social media through the internet has become a primary source of information.

Purposeful Twittering: Iranians Twitter Too

Purposeful Twittering: Iranians Twitter Too

Shirky concludes with the idea that what used to be the monologue of media, the producers forming a message which they distribute to consumers, is now a dialogue. What’s more, the dialogue is only part of a larger conversation among the audience as a whole. Now this huge audience of amateurs, a group substantially larger than the professional elite, can talk to one another en masse. Shirky postulates that as a result of this, the majority of our media, now and in the future, will be produced by the amateur crowd.

Shirky’s conclusion is that the internet as a new form of communication is less about the traditional methodology: craft a single message, send it to the masses, and more about creating environments for fostering groups of people who then converse.

The final question Shirky asks to end his talk is one which you as someone interested in marketing on the internet should consider, both as a producer and a consumer: As someone trying to reach people, how do you take advantage of this new media environment?

I think that’s a question we’re constantly endeavoring to answer through this blog, and a problem Pathfinder is consistently solving for its clients.

Why Facebook is Beating (has Beaten?) Myspace

June 22, 2009

Let’s Compare

What you’re looking at are the compared numbers of unique visitors for Facebook and Myspace. That last couple points on the graph shows Facebook with 113,014,638 unique visitors, and Myspace with only 56,885,691. While Myspace has stayed pretty consistent around the 55 million mark, moving down only 5.61% in unique visitors over the past year, Facebook has been rocketing up, with a 253.74% increase in visitors. This puts it at more than double Myspace’s number of unique visitors last month. So there’s little argument here, Facebook is beating Myspace handily. What we’re here to discuss however, is why, and what lessons you can take from a website which started from nothing and overcame a social networking giant.

So what makes Facebook better than Myspace, what’s been attracting and converting all those users? I’ll break it down to the few factors which are key in the success of any website.

The Breakdown


Facebook has two main things going for it here: Simplicity and Consistency. Every single page on the site has about the same layout with a very easy to look at, easy to navigate design. Every profile is well organized, especially with the new tabbing system they’ve employed, which keeps unattractive apps out of the way. Design was probably one of the biggest complaints I heard about Myspace when people began to convert from Myspace to Facebook. Every Myspace profile is different, but almost all of them have one thing in common, they’re an unattractive, confusing mess of colors and boxes. This is a case where Myspace has simply given its users too much freedom. Anyone who knows their way around html, or found some embed code on a website, can manipulate their Myspace profile. Let’s do a quick visual comparative analysis. Feel free to click on the images to see them in more detail.

 Sparkles Myspace ExampleDan Facebook Example copy

Each of these is a very typical profile page, the top being Myspace, the bottom Facebook. Notice that the Myspace page has a custom background, custom font color, and custom button texture among other things, all of which make it very difficult to read. Perhaps the most confusing feature of the Facebook page at first glance is the “news feed” in the center of the page. This is a constantly updating list of you and your friends’ activities. After one becomes acquainted with the news feed it’s quite easy to understand. Besides that, the Facebook page is very simple and visually pleasing. You may also notice that last names and private information are blacked out on the Facebook page, while the Myspace page is completely uncensored. This is because the Facebook page I used was set as private, and I could only access it because I’m friends with that person. In Facebook terms that means one of us requested the other as a friend, and the other accepted. Generally, all Facebook pages are private like this one, or limited, as in the user has set only certain parts of their profile as viewable. The Myspace page, on the other hand, is completely public and open, as most Myspace pages are. Which brings us to our next topic…

Ease of Use

As far as personal privacy goes, Facebook makes it extremely easy for users to hide information from certain people or to keep private information you don’t want to be public. So if you want close friends to be the only ones who can view your contact info, it only takes a moment. Myspace also has privacy settings, but they’re far less specific, and essentially boil down to setting your entire profile as viewable only by friends, or entirely public. When it comes to adding friends, Myspace actually has an easier process. What’s interesting is that this is not necessarily better. If you want to add a friend on Myspace, you’re pretty much one click away. The problem is that this has created a community in which individuals essentially compete for the most friends, with having friends be people you actually know not really a concern. This “friend-rush” on Myspace weakens the community as a whole. Users on Facebook, contrarily, usually are only friends with people they actually know from school, work, or family. This makes all the functions of Facebook infinitely more useful and viable. Myspace can never effectively have things like photo albums and events because those things are only effective when shared among people you want to share them with. Another factor which affects the simplicity of adding friends is the search function. Surprisingly, facebook actually has a more effective search tool than Myspace, even though Myspace’s search is backed by Google. The major difference is that Myspace’s search sifts through whole profiles, even if you’re just searching for someone’s name, while Facebook knows if you’re looking for someone you knew in college or a movie in someone’s interests. It also lets you segment your search into things like people, pages, groups, and applications. This superior search also makes it easier to navigate Facebook overall.


I mentioned earlier that features like photo albums will never work as effectively on Myspace as they do on Facebook. This is because of the extremely refined social aspect of Facebook’s photo service. When someone posts a picture on Facebook, they tag the faces of friends who are in the picture. The friends who were tagged are notified in an email from facebook, and the picture is added to that persons profile. If one could represent this visually, it would be an extremely complex web with connections between people who have taken pictures and the people who are in them, and between the different people in the pictures. Facebook actually lets you search as such, letting you search for pictures with certain people or within another persons albums. Not to mention that with Facebook’s apps, users can now add Flikr and other photosharing site streams to the applications tab of their profiles. Myspace’s photo service has the benefit of being supported by photobucket, which was recently bought by Fox. Facebook clearly wins in this category.


Community is the backbone of any social networking site. I brought up earlier how Myspace users’ obsession with “friending” has weakened the community overall, while Facebook’s is strong because it is based on real, personal connections. Facebook recognizes and bolsters this superiority with the news feed. Essentially whenever you get on Facebook, you’re presented with everything that’s new with your friends. If they’ve posted any pictures or videos, edited any information about themselves, joined any groups, you know about it. This keeps the community strong by keeping users interested in one another, constantly viewing various friends’ profile pages. Myspace has no such service, and therefore very little reason for users’ to view anyone’s profile but their own.


There are quite a few reasons Facebook is more useful than Myspace. With Facebook, it’s extremely easy to connect with old friends or classmates because the whole system is organized by “networks.” This could be your school, your office, or the area in which you live. This, combined with Facebook’s effective search function, makes it relatively easy to find anyone you happen to be looking for. While you can find people on Myspace, there’s much less emphasis on the “connection” aspect. Friending someone on Myspace is more like an acknowledgment of existence. This is probably because Facebook is a much more effective communication tool. People are much more likely to check a wall post on Facebook than on Myspace. This is mostly because people who have Facebook accounts are generally more actively checking their Facebook, some more than their email. However, for everyone else, Facebook sends you an email when you get a wall post or a private message. Because of the aforementioned network system, Facebook is a very effective tool within any sort of group. You can stay in touch with what your coworkers are doing in your office network, or stay up to date on the upcoming events within your school network. Someone’s who’s going to college next September might join that college’s network or even the specific group for incoming freshman of that college to get to know their future classmates. Essentially, Facebook as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because each part is a gear in a well oiled and extremely effective machine. Once you get to know the different features and really start to take advantage of them, it becomes an invaluable tool.

Lessons to be Learned

  1. Stay Simple and Consistent: Maintain a consistent and easy-to-look at, easy-to-use feel throughout your website. No one should have to spend more than a few seconds looking for certain buttons on any page on your site. Pages shouldn’t change in layout from one to another. After a user has gotten to know one page, they should be capable of clicking around without pause without any necessary learning curve. Another great example of this is the extremely popular site Craigslist, or even Google.
  2. Recognize Your Strengths, and Make Them Even Stronger: Facebook recognized the strong basic connectedness of it’s community, and integrated even more services to help them connect and stay connected. If certain aspects of your website or online service are drawing more users, recognize that popularity, find out what’s making it popular, and bolster or multiply that feature.
  3. The Features of Your Website Should Be Well Integrated, and Should Build Upon One Another: One of the reasons Facebook is such a good service and is so easy to use is because each of its features is integrated with the other features. The search tool, network system, picture and video applications, group’s, pages, developer applications, and news feed all work together to build any individual user’s facebook experience. This system is similar to Apple’s, as I mentioned in an earlier post. The idea is to create a personal universe, where once the user uses one part of the service, they can only benefit by using other parts. With Facebook, like any good website, company, or service, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Facebook NAME ‘Goldrush’ is On! . . . . . . . . . . . Custom Facebook URLs

June 18, 2009

As of June 13th, the social networking giant Facebook released a new feature. They’re calling it usernames, but what they’re really offering are vanity URLs. For example, before taking advantage of this feature, a facebook profile or page URL looks something like this: Not exactly the easiest URL for potential customers to find. Personal profile URLs are even worse, as they don’t even contain the individual’s name. With facebook usernames, your facebook page or profile becomes simply[your brand here]. This is useful for a number of reasons. Facebook is undoubtedly the most powerful social network on the web, with over 200,000,000 active users. So if your company doesn’t already have a facebook page they’re missing out on a huge opportunity. After that initiative has been taken, it’s now extremely important to grab up the simplest username which is best related to your company or brand. 200,000,000 people means a lot of competition, and if you’re going to advertise effectively on facebook, it’s important that you reserve your username before anyone else does. It’s also worthwhile to mention that a unique, easy to find address could also increase views through Google as well as facebook because of the SEO value this could bring. Unfortunately, in order to change the URL of a facebook page, you’ll have to have one which has been active since before May 31st, 2009 and has more than 1000 fans. So new users are stuck until June 28th, 2009, when the service opens up to everyone. But either way, anyone who has a vested interest in increasing sales through the web needs to take advantage of this new service.

Here’s a link to Facebook’s FAQ page on usernames:

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