The tribe.net experience, part 2

In part 1, I wrote about how community management contributed to tribe.net’s success and how traditional marketing played a key role in the company’s downfall, but those are small aspects of a larger story.

I put a call out to some former co-workers to get their input; the folks who responded were both early Engineering hires, and they each affirmed that my input into the product development process added value. If I get more feedback from other teammates, I’ll share it here. (And folks, if you don’t mind me sharing your names, let me know so I can edit this post.)

The reply I received from Engineer 1 suggested that I was was an effective proxy for our members, but that our overall progress toward creating a highy functional, user-friendly product was spoiled by “too many cooks.” As a result, he said that our service became less successful over time, even though we had direct and actionable feedback from end-users telling us exactly what they needed and wanted.

I agree with his assessment that what we were creating was “truly revolutionary.” We didn’t rely on the cold calculations of the social graph “to provide advertisers with a better view into what to try to sell me.” At times, our social network was “maddeningly hard to use, stupidly fragile and yet, it serves the needs admirably.” He also wrote;

“Who you report to is immaterial if leadership is dedicated to providing utility, usefulness or entertainment, or, as seems to be the vast majority case, not dedicated to such.”

In part 1, I suggested that Community Management might have been more effective if it’d been run out of Operations. My reasoning was facile; Ops generally gets the resources it needs, because when it doesn’t, things break down. This was a pretty simple reading of Operations teams, and I’ve got some second thoughts about that.

Engineer 2 praised me as “the ultimate user advocate … and therefore should have been a part of the Product organization with significant upstream input on features and priorities.”

In hindsight, I agree with him completely. The person writing/reviewing Product Requirement Documents has a permanent seat at the table, even if they attend more meetings than they care to. However, I never really felt that my CM input was embraced by the entire product team. I got along well with our PMs, but I’ll never forget the afternoon I turned to one in frustration and asked if we could prioritize the development of some admin tools that would reduce the amount of manual work I had to do.

I’ll never forget his response:

“It’s not my job to make your job easier.”

I was a little floored by such a baldly disinterested response. Instead of interpreting it as rudeness, I decided to assume that this was the way all product managers operated and that I must have crossed a line.

Several years later, a talented product manager (and several former co-workers) set me straight, and I’m deeply appreciative.

Another reason I’m certain tribe.net thrived early on is because everyone owned their role. I recently heard someone say that working in an immature startup is like little-league soccer; regardless of their respective positions, everyone swarms the ball if it rolls their way.

I’ve seen that problem writ large at many firms, but not at tribe.net. In terms of mutual respect and teamwork, I’ll be lucky if I ever find an culture/environment like that again.

Maybe I’ll have to create one.

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2 Comments

Filed under Community Management, Internet, Personal, Social Media, Uncategorized

2 responses to “The tribe.net experience, part 2

  1. Interesting and perhaps not an accident that this post comes out the same day as our fearless former CEO takes his next company public. I wonder to what extent the ideals that you are espousing here have been adopted at Zynga. I have also recently somewhat unceremoniously rolled off a consulting project with a company that severely lacks the mutual trust and respect that we had in the early days at Tribe. I don’t know if such trust and respect is critical to the success of a company, but it sure is critical if you want me to work there. Wouldn’t it be great to rebuild such an environment ourselves?

  2. If you ever manage to create that environment, count me in.

    From purely a user perspective from the Tribe.net days of yore, what you folks did really, really well in the beginning was create tools for users to take the reigns of their own experience, then get the hell out of the way. I’ve seen so many products wither when the urge to corral or steer activity to what the powers that be think the users *should* be doing rather than provide support for the users to run with what they really *want* to be doing.

    As I have said time and time again, Tribe.net was WAY ahead of it’s time, and with the right direction and resources, I have no doubt that it would have turned into a dominant player in the space. It had the kind of robust, passionate, and dedicated communities that as a Community Manager, I measure my own success against. Quite the yard stick.

    What would have happened if Tribe had come into being in the age of viral engines like Twitter and Facebook? Magic.

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