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Community Not Comments

The past decade has given rise to an information revolution powered by social sharing. This is the idea that information is more than just created and consumed — people actually internalize and share it. We've come to call this behavior “social networking” and it’s become ubiquitous.

At one time the term had real substance. Social networks had depth and were real catalysts information normalization.

Today social networking has somewhat lost its meaning. That’s not to say that it’s not happening in a big way, it is, and it’s super valuable still. But for many companies, social is a checkbox on a long list of features and functionality they need to incorporate into their product. Whether a content site, mobile app, utility or business tool, we look at social networking as a “par-for-the-course” type behavior. We have to have it.

That’s true of course, but in certain circumstances social has been reduced to one common and primary behavior — commenting.

Commenting is the go to “check the box” social interaction, but it’s not nearly enough and I argue it’s the root cause of future regression.

We've come so far, let’s not reduce the power of true community to the single dimensional behavior of commenting, but that’s what’s happening.

You see, true community is much more. At its core, community is about relationships, and relationships are far more powerful than we realize.

Destination social networks like Facebook are unique in the sense that they actually do empower community. But the first generation of social networks, Facebook included, have developed community around existing friendships rather than creating new ones.

This is an important distinction that has been largely overlooked until recently. The driver of this shift is of course mobile. Mobile is so inherently fragmented and verticalized that community has no choice but to germinate. But I say commenting is just not an acceptable means to cultivate the millions of mobile communities that are now sprouting up.

Of course I can’t stand in the back of the room and firebomb the trailblazers that got us where we are. Truth-be-told, comments were actually the best we could do until now.

When we look at the web, engagement is much more around consumption than community; it’s just the nature of the platform. Whereas mobile is inherently social — it’s just so easy to engage with people on mobile, whether its chat, SMS, sharing, livestreaming or any of the other million ideas that are yet to be imagined.

We've got mobile apps, with all the technology and proven social features necessary to empower true community at every level. So why are we still using comments as the go to social engagement tactic? It’s just so 1999.

Here’s the problem with comments. First and foremost they're not real time. They rarely lead to meaningful conversations. They don't facilitate friendships. And they erode context. They simply aren't a catalyst for community.

Think about it. I love Techcrunch. I'm reading articles on their mobile app every day. Once in a while I write a comment; and even more rarely I get an actual response. More often, someone else just comments after me. I’m not drawn into a conversation.

And even in the cases where a conversation does occur, it’s highly sporadic and divorced. I have no way of finding all the conversations I'm part of in one place. At best I see a list of notifications when someone else “commented” on the thread I commented on. That doesn't mean it’s a conversation.

There is so much context on Techcrunch, but there is no conversation. There is no community. They have one, to be sure, but comments are doing nothing to actually empower it.

Download a Invision App DEMO of what the Techcrunch app could look like here: http://invis.io/H92OSW34Z

Comments should be replaced with messaging and chat. When I’m having an SMS conversation with one or more people I see a list of all my active conversations in one place. That’s the same with KIK, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat and all the other next generation social networks.

What the TC app could look like with community features. Download demo: http://bit.ly/1CHXePn

These apps facilitate real community because the conversations are front and center. Comments are back and right. It’s actually a subtle distinction — some minor tech and a little UX and comments become chat.

Social is shifting. Today it’s a destination; tomorrow it’s going to be everywhere you are. Whatever app you're using, your “communities” will be right there with you — imagine a social network that lives and breathes on top of everything else. Now wouldn't that be cool.

If you like this essay, please consider recommending it by clicking the little heart at the bottom. And please follow me to get notified when I post something new. To learn more about how AFINITY is helping mobile apps engage and monetize their users with chat, please visit http://afty.co.

Written by

Entrepreneur and 5x founder. @velocify @amplifyla @markuphero @audiojoyapps @geekingapp | High school teacher. Content marketer. Startup junkie. Dad.

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