BCNI Philly: Creating thriving communities where your readers are happy

Andrew Spittle and Andrew Nacin led a 1 pm session on lessons to be learned from developing software. Both worked on their college newspapers. Spittle now works for, a service offered by Automattic, and Nacin works on, an open-source software project. Two different types of communities involved: centralized and decentralized. offers 24/7 support via email to anyone who signs up for a blog. Automattic views customer support as essential to building a community. Happiness leads directly to using the product more.

Few ways of getting feedback from your community:

  • focus group
  • usability testing
  • going to events to hear what people are thinking

Nacin: “The vocal minority is a bad thing in many cases.” You shouldn’t allow them to guide the course of the community.

Google recently launched a feature in search that supports recipe metadata from publishers. saw an uptick in support tickets from food bloggers requesting the feature to be added.

If you’re building a community, you need to think about the needs of each facet. Designing for a monolithic majority leads to poor results.

“If I was a fresh reader to The New York Times and wanted to start following stories on X topic, where would I start?” asks Spittle. has an email address anyone can email to and receive a response. Nacin argues against email as a way collecting feedback because it’s unstructured and most news organizations don’t have the support staff to respond quickly.

Setting expectations with your community if you want to build a relationship with them is very important, explains Spittle. If you offer an email address anyone can send to, the expectation is that the community member will receive a response.

According to Nacin, “if you want a thriving community, it comes down to engagement. If you aren’t willing, don’t bother.”

Blogsmith, a blogging tool used internally by Aol, has a terrible commenting system. Engadget, controversially internally, switched to Disqus and saw the quality of engagement go up significantly.

Pivoting to a conversation about user experience lessons we can take from software development and apply to news websites. Nacin reflexively types in every time he opens a new tab. Ideally, this is the attitude of every reader. You want to be the homepage.

Question: How can news organizations shift from publishing information to inform, to publishing information to be used?

Nacin: “Readers should be more than visitors.” We need to think of more compelling reasons for them to stick around. Facebook centers the user experience around the user. Personalized recommendations increase relevancy. What if the headlines on were determined based on your past reading history?

Lastly, when you’re tracking data, you should define what “success” is beforehand. It’s much easier to figure out when you’ve hit it.

One Comment

Andrew Spittle April 30, 2011 Reply

Cool notes, thanks for posting these.

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