I had a phenomenal discussion with Bartosz Solowiej, formerly of TokBox and currently of Gigs.ly, about many a thing, but specifically about the community problem that I am having. Not a problem in the sense that something is wrong, but rather a problem in bringing horses to water. It really helped me realize that the problem isn’t about convincing the horse, but about finding the water.
Just to give a quick overview of the previous post, the goal was to bring the TokBox Platform to more developers in the hopes that it will bring video chat as a service to more people. I’ve been working on this problem for two years now, and have always focused on building out a developer ecosystem which is strong enough to both want to build video chat into whatever services they build, and welcoming enough to make developers want to be a part of the ecosystem.
After having a really amazing talk with Bartosz about connections, communities and their natural growth, I realized that the best approach may be to flip the whole problem onto its head. Returning to the horse to water analogy, I need to find pools of water, and convince them that they need video chat as a service.
Let me back up a bit. My big ah-hah moment this weekend was realizing that I made a big mistake in thinking that one could manually grow a community. Communities don’t have foundations of hard work, or aren’t a set of people just brought together. This approach to building community is very water/oil in nature. When you shake it just right, you’ll convince yourself that the different parts have mixed, but in the end the two parts end up separate. Realizing that I was doing just that, I stopped to think about a different approach. Taking two giant steps back, I came to realize that communities grow organically. People find a common interest, and from that common interest they build a foundation of mutual understanding from a set of beliefs. This, and not the actual work to maintain and grow the community, is the foundation. On top of this foundation, and here is where the hard work and luck comes into play, is where communities are acted out.
My efforts, so far, have been focused on setting in motion the actions of the community. What I have not realized is the fact that there isn’t a foundation. I haven’t found the mutual interest. I’m trying to get people to build a community without understanding what the common thread is. I assumed that having developers building video chat into their applications was the common thread. It’s not.
What then is the common thread? I’m glad you asked. It’s communities who can grow stronger because video chat, or video messaging, is a fundamental part of their genome. Behind the scenes are those will see that a better community will grow because of the services we can provide, and they will find a way to make it happen. From there, video chat will become something that is part of the toolkit of community builders, who can then continue to spread the technology.
Find the water, and when the horses see something they like, they will continue to come back. The next step is figuring out how to make them come back.