FastCompany.com Update Three

Where to begin? Since our newly blended journalism/community platform was released on February 11, we’ve received more attention for FastCompany.com [0] in the few weeks than we did over the past five years. The one-two punch of a new FastCompany.com platform and the March 3 launch of FastCompany.TV [1], with famed tech blogger Robert Scoble [2], has certainly caught the attention of the blogosphere. These developments have led to many interesting discussions about the role of community within the mainstream media, as predicted when we first launched [2].

Before rounding up some of the feedback we've received, here's a look at some of our site stats:

*We now have 114,000 members. We’re growing memberships at about 10 percent a month. That’s five times faster than Facebook! (To be fair, I guess it gets a little harder to grow as fast after your membership crosses 50 million.)

*Our members have started about 946 blogs on FastCompany.com. We’re reading your blogs constantly and featuring new ones on the homepage and topic pages of FastCompany.com every day. I’ve been following "The Guide to Business with Earthlings [2]" by Offyd Grinispuffs (yes, I know it’s a pseudonym) and "The World of StartUps Outside of Silicon Valley [2]" by Francine Hardaway.

*User behavior on the site has changed dramatically. Before the new platform debuted, our average user visited just once per month. Our 800,000 or so non-member monthly visitors are still at that same pace; but once a visitor becomes a member, most are coming back several times a month.

Now to the media reviews, which were overwhelmingly positive. (I’ll throw in a couple of negative mentions so I can pretend to be balanced.)

Erick Schonfeld wrote this nice post on TecCrunch [3]:

"On FastCompany.com, you can now start your own blog, join a group, post a video, comment on articles, or suggest a "Fast Talk" question to start a debate. Articles from the print publication are interspersed with blog posts from readers, experts, and staffers, and are arranged in a blog-like chronology on the front page.

The idea is to make it easier for readers to interact with staff writers and contributors, and write their own thoughts, which might be featured prominently on the site. Every contribution a reader makes gets collected on his or her profile page, tagged, and placed into one of the eight sections on the site (innovation, technology, leadership, management, design, social responsibility, careers, and work/life balance). The site is built on top of the open-source content-management software Drupal. And it will support OpenID.

During the dying days of Business 2.0, I remember sitting in editor Josh Quittner’s office brainstorming about how we could do pretty much the exact same thing to save that magazine. We never got beyond the brainstorming. Whether or not this will work for Fast Company depends on how smart its readers are and how willing they are to contribute. But any media site that does not listen to its readers and, indeed, allow them to take over the conversation at times, is doomed for the dustbin."

David Cohen called me up for his blog, BeatBlogging and wrote an extended piece entitled "What Magazine Websites Will Look Like in Four Years [4]."

"Fast Company, however, is trying to leverage the networking aspects of Drupal [the software platform used to build the site] in every way possible - from user-generated content blogs, to bookmarking, crowdsourcing questions and letting people make business contacts. They've spread their arms out pretty wide in the hopes that they caught something interesting for everyone. I think they are about 3-5 years ahead of their time in terms of Internet publishing with a major magazine."

In his blog, One by One Media, Jim Turner had the following to say [5]:

"Fast Company seems to get the idea that a community built around the content and their brand is a good idea. This is a bold move for a property that began on the old school way of generated content and the revenue model of advertising. They see the new generation of how people consume information, and the new movement of the social graph."

Now for a splash of cold water. Jeremiah Owyang, a social media analyst at Forrester who writes web-strategist.com, jumped into the fray with a long post about our strategy and design [5]: That’s the link to his FastCompany.com cross-post of his original blog (hey, we might as well at least get the traffic if we’re going to quote some trash talk).

"The deployment looks like the features were determined by the developers and not a user experience designer. Let tools be hidden, and show more on a mouse over or let them cascade out. Think Zen, articles first, social second, features and tools third."

I like Jeremiah. But, uh, well, no. The opposite is true. We spent five months on design, user interface and usability testing before we even picked our development team. We developed a 120-page design blueprint that was completely focused on user experience. The effort was led by Karen McGrane, of Bond Art and Science [6], who is widely considered among the finest information architects in the world. (She was the lead IA consultant on the redesign of the NewYorkTimes.com, for example.)

 

We didn’t even know if the thing could be built when we were done — we wanted to document our vision first, then see if we could get it built second. We were lucky enough to catch the Drupal wave at just the right time — Drupal is the leading social publishing software platform in the world, and it’s really come into its own since we began our build in early ’07. Drupal is flexible enough to let websites build just about any social media vision they can dream up. Even so, we pushed Drupal to its current limits to get our vision executed.

Anyway, we like our design a lot. We like putting user content and user tools way out in the open. That’s the idea of the site. It can be a bit disconcerting to traditional analysts because it’s less like say, an old-fashioned media site such as CNNMoney.com, which first and foremost pushes its own content at readers, and much more like dynamic sites such as Digg.com and Facebook, where the users take center stage. And hey, the new FastCompany.com won a design award just a month after launch! The Drupal Association named FastCompany.com Best Designed Site at their DrupalCon gathering in March. Here’s a blog post by developer Jeff Eaton [7] about FastCompany.com and Drupal with loads of nice comments about our design.

Closer to home, a few Company of Friends members from the good old days have complained about the change-up in their old listservs. We’re about to go into a six-week code sprint to turn on functionality for "groups." Better scheduling tools, better moderation tools, and new broadcast/conference call tools are also coming.

On the development front, we’re also investing a bunch more on improving our site performance. When we turned on our platform, we went from a site consisting of static pages to a site about as "dynamic" as anyplace on the Web. With just a click, any one of our 114,000 members can generate FastCompany.com pages featuring all the content ever contributed by an unlimited number of their contacts. Every member’s homepage is completely different and constantly being updated, consisting of their favorite feeds, the latest activity of the contacts and their groups, and the latest from the professional writers and editors at Fast Company.

Innovation can be messy. Lots and lots of moving parts, eating up server space at a ferocious rate. We apologize to users who have suffered because of performance and data issues. Please be assured that we are investing a tremendous amount of time and attention to improving the site in this regard.

Getting readers and Fast Company staffers into an ongoing dialogue is pretty critical to what we’re doing. To that end, I’d like to announce that we are forming a FastCompany.com group around the comings and goings of FastCompany.TV managing director Robert Scoble. You can find the group here [7].

Robert’s show, ScobleizerTV [8] has been going gangbusters. And we’ve recently worked with Robert to redesign his personal blog, www.Scobleizer.com [9], which you can now go to follow his twitter feeds, his Flickr photos, his videos, his Google calendar, and Upcoming.org events.

Robert will be dropping into the group to talk to readers about their tech and innovation insights. But most of all it’s a place where Scoble’s enthusiastic readers can meet and talk with each other.

We are adding groups around Fast Company topics and people of note all the time. Just click on "Find Groups [9]" on top of the masthead on any page of the site to browse through the current crop.

Cheers,

Ed 

 

 

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