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.

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! 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

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]


About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs