2013-08-06

Three Long-Winded (But Useful) Suggestions From Our Readers



Last week we asked readers to be our Labs Rats and subject themselves to a reader survey. Knowing that surveys don’t exactly nourish the human soul, we also put out the call for free-form qualitative feedback via email. Here were three thoughtful responses with good ideas for the site—and a few, ahem, critiques. We’ll reproduce them here, edited for length as some readers got quite impassioned. My responses are below.

Letter 1: Why Don’t You Host A MOOC?

Hi everyone at Co.Labs!

Just wanted to throw a quick "Merci" in your direction and let you know how much I appreciate all that you do.

I am an expat American artist-entrepreneur living in the Black Forest of Germany and I read Co.Labs every morning with my coffee and I check for new stuff before bed.

This has been my ritual since you started Co.Labs. While it is very beautiful here, (30 mins from France, got a *huge* studio and work spaces) this is not exactly a hotbed of intellectual, forward-thinking interaction.
And that's putting it mildly.

I love the variety of your content and I feel you have enabled me to stay on top of what is trending, who to watch and what's developing in the tech/social/design/science industries.

You are one of my main life-lines to what I feel is a daily, immediate global pulse of what's interesting in the combined fields of tech/design/social/education.

I am always trying to find better ways of engaging and helping small business owners(mainly those on the creative/artistic side) to branch out into international waters using technology.

This can be daunting at times because the Germans and the French are not super big about change and early adoption like Americans.

I read Co.Labs for many reasons and so often you give me a much-needed boost when I feel like a 3-headed entrepreneur-alien in the land of yes-but people.

There is always something on your site that feeds my need for tech/design/global input. So I know I am not crazy, just ahead of the curve so I must push on!

As to how CL can be better?? hmm.. Maybe give a MOOC now and then? I would take a CL MOOC for sure! Interactive interviews/chats (live) with interesting people?

A MOOC (or massively open online course) is a great idea and it’s one I’ve been practicing for. I’ve been teaching video courses at General Assembly here in New York, and while I don’t enjoy them as much as the real-life classes, they’re obviously much faster, and the reach can be enormous. We’re all about learning and building here at Co.Labs, so a course would be a natural fit.

To me, the value of something like this would be in a format that is daily, quick, and digestible—if followed every week it would eventually accrete into a larger understanding of a programming or design concept. We aren’t presently set up to produce that much video in our current workflow, so there would be a little bit of a learning curve. But video more generally is something I’m already trying to figure out, and the suggestion to host courses is a great way to do that. Look for more experiments in this area to come.—Chris Dannen, Editor

Letter 2: You Should Put Startups Into A Web Confessional

Firstly, love FastCompany.com! I had read a lot of snippets over the years and I finally subscribed to your digital edition :)

My dream is to be a digital marketing consultant one day! I'd like to guide small to medium sized businesses in Marketing, SEO and Analytics. Having completed your survey I wanted to pass on an idea, maybe its been done a million times but its an area of interest for me. What does an innovative timeline really look like? How does one get from an innovative idea to a well-oiled machine? We all hear common words thrown around like, luck and hard work but where are the emotions? The in-betweens we never focus on.

Maybe a competition to select the next innovative business idea, take a vote from your subscribers/followers to see who they want to follow and read about throughout the year. (maybe this happens every 6 months, let your subscribers/followers choose) Make your subscribers/followers part of the yearly company journey. Write about their successes, pitfalls, tips, tricks, and what strategies they used to overcome road blocks. Include a column or blog for the innovator, like a web confession cam. I'd love to hear/read about ones personal experiences, emotional struggles so I can truly grasp and appreciate how hard it is to turn an innovative idea into reality.

What budding innovator wouldn't want exposure from a credible, famous source like FastCompany.com?

We’re already at work on this concept with stories from entrepreneurs like Nate Kontny, the DataFox founders, and myself (with my project, Writebot). As we recruit more guest startups the volume of these sorts of posts will increase, and their observations and anecdotes will get more detailed. But hey—great idea to do things like web confession cams. I hadn’t thought of that. Video diaries are easier for the entrepreneurs to create and often more interesting to consume. And we know readers want to see firsthand the daily grind of startup life and how to best navigate it. I love this concept.—Chris Dannen, Editor

Letter 3: This Is Bullshit, Not "Reader Engagement"

Dear Chris,

About a week or so I engaged Gabe about the CoLabs audio experiments, offered a similar suggestion to this Labs Rats program, and am interested to see how it works out for you. I have some thoughts for your consideration.

Engagement with people on a qualitative level is somewhat lacking on Fast Company. This was one of the reasons I was impressed with both Gabe’s direct response to me, and the opportunity to influence Fast Company on a more substantive level. The Labs Rats program almost validates the public conversation I had with Gabe, and showing responsiveness to feedback is potentially an exciting differentiator for Fast Company- depending on the direction you take it. At the moment, certain aspects stand out to me that I think may leave your program falling short of its promise.

...

Surveys are actually a tool I find people can resent specifically for the reasons I mentioned above. I don’t like being corralled into providing "user-data" like income, but prefer to be related to on the merits of what I say and do. There’s a lot more to it, but I can imagine the survey would be greeted with a less than enthusiastic response. Naturally, incentivizing the survey could make a difference with that. I would love a Nike FuelBand BTW, but overall the fact that is a dangling carrot designed to get more participants in the survey, and consequently diminishes my chances of winning might be considered an insult to my intelligence. Again, this sort of thing comes back to what my intrinsic motivations for participating on Fast Company are. A survey with nominal incentive not only misses the mark, but hits the wrong one IMHO.

Now, you almost seem to pick up on the key despite that. I thought it was even kind of funny how you almost point the blame up the chain to management. However, I think you do better to lay out what the management objectives are, and then follow with the survey as an option provided for its "convenience" for those busy participants that do not have a lot of time to spare. The highlight for me was how you do offer the direct accessibility via e-mail. Other than public conversation, I would not have offered my feedback.

...

Anyone that uses FC social media for whatever purpose is going to have a localized perspective on what you are asking, but the feedback might not be very forthcoming unless you really frame the program around them and invite their participation on their own terms.

...

Fast Company still operates mainly as a magazine and not so much as a social community. Writers publish, but often leave conversations unattended. For instance, with the "one and done" tone set by writers, you get the corresponding effect by readers. I assume there are reasons on the table why hosting conversations might not be feasible, but for feedback’s sake it’s worth checking those assumptions at the door. There is a skillset involved with being an "online social media personality" that actively engages a community, and it goes beyond the base skillset of writing articles. However, when done correctly, the corresponding effect is both qualitative and quantitative.

People check back when addressed directly. They are more likely to comment if reciprocation is apparent. They are also more likely to engage each other in an environment of reciprocation. Pick your metric. "One and done" is a contemporary understanding of social media, but if you actually engage people then many more will spend much more time on site, bounce less, and will consequently be more responsive to any initiatives requiring action. Fast Company already has a solid base with social enabled high quality content, but it is underutilizing its capabilities to simulate activity simply by being more "social". If you put more attention to that, I am pretty sure you will find FC becomes an even more popular online destination of choice, and thus a superior value to your advertising partners.

It appears you must not be following us on Twitter. If you were, you’d see that we interact with very nearly every single person who tweets or retweets about our stories. If you look at my personal Twitter feed, you’ll find I talk to a lot of our readers every single day.

If you’re looking for this kind of action in our article comments, you won’t find it. The majority of people prefer to discuss our articles in social networks. Comments are evolving to be of a different purpose, one I can’t generalize yet.

I don’t like the idea of a survey either—surveys are mundane and impersonal by nature. But this is something that’s necessary for us in order to run our business, which is supported by display advertising. Our site is only 5 months old this week, so we don’t yet have a formalized infrastructure for taking more qualitative, conversational feedback—except our email inboxes and Twitter handles. For now, that’s where this conversation will stay. But rest assured we’re listening.—Chris Dannen, Editor

[Image: Flickr user Patrick Hoesly]




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3 Comments

  • Eric_B_Rice

    "If you’re looking for this kind of action in our article comments, you won’t find it. The majority of people prefer to discuss our articles in social networks. Comments are evolving to be of a different purpose, one I can’t generalize yet."

    I don't know how well I represent the general reader base, but I'd rather keep some separation between my personal spaces, my professional spaces, and my "public-social" spaces online. As such, when I want to comment on articles, I prefer to not tie that to my facebook, twitter, or other space that I like to keep as my "personal on-line" space, spam my friend with my stupid online comments, or open my personal space to all the others that are commenting. I'd rather do it in FastCo's space, since that's the more appropriate forum IMO.   

  • Anthony Reardon

    Nice job adding titles Chris, lol!

    Hey yesandgirl! Love your energy. MOOC's  could be cool, but I'd personally want to be involved in the discussion. For instance, you could easily fall into boring "webinar" mode where one person owns the stage, and hardly anyone else can get a word in without tripping over each other.  Daily, quick, and digestible...hmmm....not so much the activity itself I hope. I think you need to aim for ongoing, immersive, and constructive. Then post the cliff notes for hooking and following. How about MIT Open Courseware for instance as a base subject matter. We could have discussion groups on everything from the Mars Rover, drone design competition, how to "make" your own XYZ plane joystick, to scuba diving. Maybe we could collaborate on reporting out sessions in Prezi's. Personally, I'd get a kick out of doing some kind of UPS Whiteboard videos to break down concepts. Sponsor opportunities abound.

    I personally liked the 2nd letter. Blogging is nothing new, but there's this untapped aspect of weblogging in documentary fashion the process a startup goes through taking a vision through to materialization. The self-disclosure is an exercise in transparency, would be pretty cool to see a before to after- especially for a project that gets exposure with the help of Fast Company, and like CoLabs latest "news scrum" , there are companies out there that have it in their interest to dispel the pop startup culture- like the fact most successes don't just occur with a perfect, intentionally designed,  spontaneous release of an innovative idea.

    3 is me but Chris deserves some credit, lol! I'm coming from a background in social network development, so I used a platform I could create a site like Fast Company and post articles as discussion topics on a forum module. I also had the option to incorporate DISQUS commenting BTW, and while I agree it is somewhat less conducive to conversation, can still be done through influencing behavior. So that raises the issue of most people preferring to discuss on social networks like Twitter. We can break this down more, but technically, it's not a stretch to imagine how FC could be more of a social networking experience. There are reasons why people want to interact with FC and on certain subject matter in front of their public connections. However, Twitter can be just as effective if oriented mostly to pointing audiences over to action happening here. A good point to bring up to management might be where they would prefer to have that kind of "activity"- impress advertising partners on the value of Twitter or maybe better serve the interests of Fast Company?

    Best, Anthony 

  • yesandgirl

    Yay!  Happy my response was one of the chosen!  
    I like the 3rd letter.. yay/ouch!
    The questions about my income/race/gender always piss me off.  I usually leave right then.
    I have nothing to hide or be shamed for, it's just such a stupid enquiry.Here's something to those of us learning how to deliver a good MOOC:There is a guy on Coursera who teaches a business class who is *phenomenal*. Professor Edward D. Hess. He is uber dorky and at first I was ready to bolt, but he is so dynamic and engaging that he wins in the end. Big time.  And he has no studio audience!CreativeLIVE is a superb MOOC platform which has a small, live audience/students as well as live chat and questioning capacity which brings the game of interaction to the table.They also have a great way of offering stuff for free and for pay. I just finished an intensive seminar by Porter Gale @ your network being your net-worth.Amazing amounts of useful info.  And the cL team really does it better than anything out there to date.  I signed up for another Coursera class @ Teaching Online Classes. It S#%cked. Hard.
    The professor actually shut it down, it was so bad.  
    Lesson: For good online delivery it's all about letting your real personality out of the bag.Because I am stuck in the forest, I am continuously on the hunt for quality, relevent, online venues to get my learning fix as well as studying how the best in the fields are doing it.  Learn by modeling!So, that is all. Thanks again for what you deliver!yesandgirl