'Lost' Fans Serve Up Surprising Lessons About Web 2.0 For Business - InformationWeek

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Commentary
4/29/2008
12:49 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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'Lost' Fans Serve Up Surprising Lessons About Web 2.0 For Business

When I set out to do an article about fans of the TV show Lost and how they're using the Internet, I didn't think I'd learn anything about using Web 2.0 for business. I thought it was an article our readers might find entertaining, and that I'd enjoy doing, and nothing more than that. And yet I was pleasantly surprised to find that a couple of business lessons popped out, about self-organizing groups and how they can get results without traditional, top-down management.

When I set out to do an article about fans of the TV show Lost and how they're using the Internet, I didn't think I'd learn anything about using Web 2.0 for business. I thought it was an article our readers might find entertaining, and that I'd enjoy doing, and nothing more than that. And yet I was pleasantly surprised to find that a couple of business lessons popped out, about self-organizing groups and how they can get results without traditional, top-down management.Lost Fans Find Internet Thrills Via Wikis, Games, Second Life takes a look at how Lost fans are having fun online via Lostpedia, a wiki encyclopedia of information about the show; a Second Life group; and official show sites run by ABC, the network that airs Lost.

The money quotes, relevant to using Web 2.0 for business, are on the first page of the article, based on my interview with Kevin Croy, a programmer consultant who founded and manages Lostpedia.com. He takes a hands-off management style:

"I try to let the community figure out answers to their own questions," Croy said. "Some of the users like to give my opinion on content more weight than the average user." He added, "Lostpedia has grown the most when I'm sitting on my hands."

A recent example was the use of a vulgar slang term -- starts with "mind" and rhymes with "fire truck" -- to describe the misdirection used on the show. Some thought the word was inappropriate to use on Lostpedia, others thought that changing the word would be censorship. Croy let the community find its own answer, and they eventually settled on redirecting searches using the vulgar term to a page for plot twists....

The Palo Alto Research Center (formerly Xerox PARC) contacted him about two years ago to study Lostpedia. "Basically, they wanted to study the way that a group of users collects intelligence, brings it back to a central place, and processes that intelligence, categorizes it, and analyzes it and decides what's good and bad." PARC looks at each new episode as a big new batch of intelligence dumped on the Lostpedia community. "They want to see how they can apply that to the national defense projects they're working on," Croy said.

The lessons are the same whether it's a bunch of fans discussing a TV show for fun, or a business team trying to work out solutions using internal wikis and discussion forums, or a community manager looking to herd customers on a company's Web site: The hands-off approach is best.

A hard-working community manager is a bad community manager, the best community managers are the laziest. If you think there might be a problem on the site requiring intervention, do nothing. Wait. The community will probably work out the problem on its own. The manager should only intervene where that process fails.

Now if you'll excuse me -- I'm a couple of weeks behind reading Lostpedia episode updates.

Do you manage an online community for business? How do you handle inappropriate behavior?

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