If you’re a long-time reader of The Viral Garden, you know that in the summer of 2008, I was pretty much in love with Plurk. If you’ve never heard of Plurk, it’s a micro-blogging site like Twitter, but the main difference is that its timeline doesn’t scroll vertically, it scrolls horizontally. And when you leave a Plurk (as opposed to a Tweet on Twitter), you can click on the Plurk and reply directly on it, very similar to the old IM windows on AOL. So it’s possible to have a conversation among several people right below one Plurk. This bit of functionality addresses one of the problems that Twitter users have always encountered: Keeping up with the conversation flow among multiple users.
In 2008, a lot of people started checking out Plurk because Twitter was having a ton of outages at the time. Since many of us couldn’t get on Twitter, so we experimented with Plurk.
One of the tenents of building an online community, whether it’s on a site or a blog, is to reward the type of behavior you want to encourage. Plurk users are given a Karma score when they sign-up, which starts at 0.00. As they use Plurk more, their karma score rises, and when they reach certain point totals, additionally functionality is unlocked. I believe most/all of the functionality revolved around additional emoticons (dancin’ nanner FTW!). The point is, Plurk did a great job of rewarding users for engaging in the exact type of behavior they were trying to encourage.
But the problem is, just as your karma score rises on Plurk as you use the site, it falls back down if you stop using the site. By the fall of 2008, Twitter had become much more stable, and a lot of us that were trying out Plurk over the summer started spending more time on Twitter. Which meant we were spending less time on Plurk. In my case, I didn’t spend a lot of time on Plurk in the early fall, and the few times I did visit Plurk, I noticed that each time my karma had dropped a dozen or more points. And so had my access to certain emoticons and what not.
So just as Plurk had encouraged me to use the site more by giving me additional functionality in the early summer, by the fall as my karma score fell, they were taking that functionality back away from me. And as you might have guessed, they were also taking away my desire to use the site anymore.
So Plurk did one thing really well: It rewarded the type of behavior it wanted to encourage via the Karma score. The problem was, it also PUNISHED you if you did NOT engage in the type of behavior it wanted to encourage. Which would lead to some users changing their behavior, and it would lead to some users leaving the site.
Which is what I did.
This can happen on blogs as well. I’ve seen plenty of bloggers that replied to every blog comment when they were 1st getting started, then after their blog got popular and they went from getting 5 comments a post to 50, suddenly they stopped replying to comments as often. Which then led to fewer comments.
So if you are trying to build a community on your site or blog, make sure you are rewarding the type of behavior you want to encourage, but also make sure you are NOT punishing users as well.