Pottermore, Fandom and Social Networking: A Case Study

When it hit the internet in 2011, Pottermore was near revolutionary. It was interactive fan fiction, written and sanctioned by the author herself; taking the world of the books outward in an “official” capacity, rather than allowing fans to extrapolate freely where they could see open doors and unfinished threads.

PottermoreThe major drawcard of the site was (the aforementioned) new content from JK Rowling, giving greater insight into characters, events and objects from the books. Fans of the books could be sorted into a house by a “real” Sorting Hat quiz, rather than relying on fan-made ones to determine whether they were more Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. The site promoted itself as a safe haven for young Potter fans, requiring parental consent for users under 13 and ensuring no personal information was given through a user’s profile.

The social networking aspects of the site didn’t become fully realised until July 2013, when new features allowed users to comment on every section of the website (from JK Rowling’s original content, to the interactive pages devoted to each chapter of the books), chat with other members of their house, submit fan art and post status updates. Once established, the comments section became a place for fans to interact as themselves, or as role players (pretending to be Hogwarts students).

Despite taking multiple precautions to ensure a safe, G-rated site (for example, banning the use of numbers – so people couldn’t share phone numbers – and certain words, introducing a reporting function), some role players integrated sexual references into their roleplay (“unicorning” being the euphemism of choice). Other role players would describe the injuries sustained from duels in graphic detail. People began to use nicknames (placed at the end of their posts), rather than just their randomly generated usernames, for ease of identification.

pottermore-feature-3In April 2015, the social networking features of Pottermore were pulled. The Pottermore team said that they felt these features weren’t serving the community, and they were unable to effectively monitor comments, statues and comments as user activity increased. The sudden loss of these features was met with dismay by many users, who had no way to contact the friends they’d made on the site and enjoyed interacting with on a daily basis.

This may look like a case study of the pitfalls of social networking more generally, but I’d argue that it makes a better case for why smaller, independently governed social networks tend to be more successful for niche interest groups – particularly fandoms. Bringing the entire Potter fandom together in a single space without roping off sections for role play, chapter discussions etc (ie, having everyone in the same place) was always going to cause problems – if people are in a space (or a sub-space) where they understand and agree with the rules, you’re less likely to be overwhelmed by reports from users who aren’t okay with what’s happening around them. It’s an important reminder of why you have to inherently understand (and accept) the ins and outs of a community and how they behave and interact online before opening up a space directed at them. What happened here was predictable (fandom being fandom); and yet, the closure was still credited to user activity getting beyond what the Pottermore team could manage.

The fan social networks which have succeeded tend to be segmented, or directed at a particular niche; MuggleNet is an excellent example, with different areas available for different kinds of discussion (they’re so successful, in fact, that they make thousands of dollars in advertising revenue each year). If you’re thinking of creating your own, fandom-based social network, it’s worth investing in software that will allow you to add features as your community evolves, and build it in a way that works *with* fan culture, rather than trying to restrain it.

Interview: Samantha van Vleet of Cassava Shop

Samantha van Vleet owns Cassava Shop, an organic non-GMO herbal supplement company based out of the United States. She also owns TTCTwins, a semi-private forum/network for people trying to conceive twins. Her company is a great example of how niche social networks can benefit small business owners, and even create business opportunities; we interviewed her about her experience running a niche network, and how it gave rise to a very successful online business.

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Tell me a little bit about TTCTwins; why you started it, where it came from.

I have been fascinated with twins from the time I was little. I had a set of Cabbage Patch twin dolls and I always had them. I dragged them everywhere. Once I got older, I still thought the idea of twins was amazing. I looked online for places that discussed it, but there really weren’t many and the places that were available, weren’t so friendly. Women would be attacked and vilified for wanting twins because of the potential health risks involved and “no one should want that for themselves or their babies.” Yes, there are risks involved in having twins, but the decision to try for twins isn’t anyone but the couple who is trying’s. So in 2009 I decided to set up a simple forum and I posted the link two or three places. It grew insanely fast and quickly became the authority on the subject, simply because there was no other site dedicated to the subject. It became a safe haven for these women who wanted twins to find information, support and assistance without being judged for that desire.

Why did you decide to start your own membership site, rather than using existing social networks (eg, Facebook groups)?

For the same reason I was avoiding the other sites; the judgement and condemnation of choosing to try for twins. By creating a membership based site, you give members the ability to protect their privacy and conceal their identity much more so than they would be able to on Facebook. And with such a delicate subject, this is important. I wouldn’t want to post on Facebook under my full name, about my attempts to conceive twins where my family or friends could easily stumble upon it and identify me.

How did TTCTwins become, or give rise to, Cassava Shop?

Many of the women on TTCTwins were talking about yams increasing fertility. This sounded odd to me and a few members and I decided to research more on it. Turns out it was a very specific type of wild yam that had this twinning effect. A village in Africa had a twinning rate of 1 in 11 and it was believed to be due to the estrogen-like substances in the skins and peelings of sweet cassava, consumed daily by members of the tribe. Obviously, we all wanted some, however, at the time there was only one source for it. I had ordered a bottle, but it just seemed fishy to me. I started looking into it more and I just had an off feeling about it. I decided to make my own to see if it was even possible to replicate the powder in the capsules I had bought and still include the skins and peelings as advertised. There wasn’t. I later determined that those capsules were filled with gari, a cereal like product made from cassava that didn’t contain the beneficial skins and peelings. At first, I intended just to make them for myself, but when other members of the site learned about the gari in the other capsules, they were outraged. After all, who wants to take a supplement that doesn’t even contain the stuff it needs to work effectively? Members started asking me if I would make them a bottle as well. I agreed, and next thing I knew, I had emails nearly daily requesting bottles of sweet cassava supplements. My husband looked at me one day and asked “So, when are you turning this into a business?

Do you think niche social networks are better for small business owners, or prospective small business owners, than the larger social networks?

Absolutely. We use coupon codes to track where our sales are coming from (along with other tools) and I would say that 80% of our sales stem from TTCTwins. The reason is simple. We are the trusted authority. We have had competitors pop up since we started Cassava Shop, but they don’t have the advantage we do. We’re trusted. We’re the authority on the subject. We are the place everyone turns to for information on trying to conceive twins and one of the first results on Google.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start up their own niche interest group or private social network online?

Find something that isn’t out there yet and make it work. Focus in on a specific niche. Don’t be afraid of it being taboo or eccentric. Odds are, if you’re interested in it, there are surely other people who are too.

PeepSo 1.0.1 Is Out

PeepSo 1.0.1 BugFix release targets three very specific bugs that were reported right after the release of the stable version. We felt that these bugs could not wait for another major release. Our developers fixed them right away.

Please upgrade to the latest version of PeepSo through the backend of WordPress or by uploading a zip file in the backend of your site. Read more about the upgrades here and check out the changelog here.

Here are two videos on how to upgrade PeepSo

PeepSo upgrade via WP backend

PeepSo upgrade from a zip file

PeepSo Stable Release Is Out!

The PeepSo 1.0.0 stable release is out now! It’s taken us more than a year and a half, a ton of effort and more coffee than you’d think a team of developers could absorb but it worked. The result is fantastic!

We’ve already received some great feedback and some very warm press. It’s been great to see how excited the WordPress community is about PeepSo.

PeepSo, Try It FREE!

PeepSo’s core is absolutely free and it gives you a ton of features. You can download it here.

Premium Plugins Available

To enhance the functionality of PeepSo we created some powerful plugins that you’re going to love. PicSo will let your members share photos, FriendSo lets them add friends and VidSo gives their videos an audience. And that’s not all. You can see a full list here.

What To Expect When You Install PeepSo For The First Time

Install PeepSo, and you’ll find a few pages already built for you. Inside those pages are shortcodes. To show the PeepSo main page on your site, you’ll just need to create a menu item to link to the Activity page.

I recommend you replace the default “Welcome Image” with a picture that suits your community: a shot of a golfer for a golfing community, for example. Start making your PeepSo yours.

PeepSo Works With Your WordPress Theme

PeepSo should work fine with almost every theme; we tested it with fifteen of the most popular themes and it looks great. Its design is also generic enough to work with almost any theme. If you want to make any changes to the look-and-feel, you can just tweak the CSS.

Join Our Community

Want to give some feedback? Bursting with ideas for PeepSo? Or just want to tell us how much you love our work and want to buy us all a big, cold beer? We have a great community where you can share with us and with others. We love meeting our users. It’s what makes PeepSo so awesome!
community

Create PeepSo Plugins

We have already received interest from developers for creating PeepSo plugins. If you’re interested too, you can learn more about our developer program here.

What about the changelog?

The changelog for PeepSo core and its supporting plugins is available on this page.

What’s Next For PeepSo?

Our road map shows exactly what we are planning for the future. It’s a lot of work but we aim to have a new release every two to four weeks. You can expect some new features soon!

Thank you for being an early adopter!

I know it’s hard to trust a new product. But we’re not a new team. We’ve been creating great products for ten years, including JomSocial which does for Joomla what PeepSo does on WordPress. We know exactly what it takes to create awesome social networking plugins. I hope you’ll give PeepSo a try, be an early adopter — and then become a raving evangelist!

Here are two videos on how to upgrade PeepSo

PeepSo upgrade via WP backend

PeepSo upgrade from a zip file

Getting On the Same Page…Literally

The saying goes, “are we on the same page?” Meaning: do we understand each other, is everything clear, has everyone learned what they need to know so progress can be made.

It’s an ideal metaphor for good communication, particularly when applied to web pages; if all your colleagues and customers are scattered across different platforms and channels, it’s going to be much more difficult to ensure people are getting the information you need them to get, when you need them to get it.

PeepSo's admin interface.

PeepSo’s admin interface.

Creating your own social network saves you from having to post the same message, over and over. You can have a real conversation in a quiet, dedicated space, rather than participating in the online equivalent of shouting in a crowded room. It works better from the customer’s end, too: rather than being unsure whether they should inbox you, text you, tweet you, send you a carrier pigeon, etc to get in touch with you, they’ll have a central communication hub where they know they’ll be able to get the support and advice they need. Further, it’s all on your website; the same place they’d go to purchase your product(s). 

PeepSo is the ideal plugin if you’re looking to start your own social network; it’s clean, streamlined, and easy to use (no coding knowledge necessary). The admin interface will be of particular interest to business owners, as it allows you a huge amount of control and insight (similar information to Facebook’s Insights tool, but easier to read and interpret); you can track post engagements, check reported content (you decide what’s acceptable, not Facebook), check your member demographics, and much more.

All of your information and communication in one place. Simple, smart, and effective.

Case Study: Gamurs and Niche Social Networking

Last week, we talked about Christian niche social networking site Facegloria, and how it stands as proof that people are looking for a smaller, more streamlined social networking experience. Gamurs, a social networking site for gamers, is yet another success story; since launching around three weeks ago, they’ve attracted over 6,000 members (by comparison, Facebook gained 150,000 members in its first four months).

Gamurs: another niche social network success story.

Gamurs: another niche social network success story.

It’s intended to be a one-stop-shop for everything gaming; a place where members can find news, share with like-minded people, and talk about different games and platforms all in one place (filling a major market gap; existing offerings tend to focus on one platform or game). Most of their revenue so far has been raised through seed funding, but further down the line they’ll be looking at partnerships with developers and offering premium subscriptions.

Again, this is a great example of why we shouldn’t think of sites like Facebook and Twitter as the be-all and end-all of social networking; there’s a clear demand for a new kind of social networking experience, and sites like Facegloria and Gamurs are capitalising on it.

PeepSo can turn any site into a social network, opening up this experience and opportunity to everyone with a WordPress site; the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

Market Networks: The New Way to Do Business Online

In an article he wrote for TechCrunch last month, James Currier looked at the rise of market networking software; software that provides an intersection between online marketplaces (sites like Etsy, eBay and AirBnB which allow multiple buyers to connect with multiple sellers), and social networking sites (sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, which emulate our offline social networks and are based around identity); he provides HoneyBook as an example, a market network for the events industry which allows professionals to connect around projects and keep all of that project’s transactions and paperwork in one place.

Image by NFX LLC.

Image by NFX LLC.

Currier suggests that these market networks have an edge over simple online marketplaces – and I would add, websites with selling capabilities – as they encourage a connection more meaningful and long-term than a simple transaction. They emulate how business happens in real life: the networks of professionals and clients which pop up on these sites often begin with people who have been communicating for years inviting each other to the site, and creating an online version of a network that already exists via fax, phone, invoices, etc.

Installing PeepSo on your website is the first step to creating your own market network. It allows you to bring all your professional connections together in one place and introduce them to each other. You can tell people about a new product and send them to the checkout page, with them staying on your site the entire time. You can build meaningful online connections within the parameters you want to set for them, eliminating the blurring between personal and professional that Facebook doesn’t just enable, but enforces (you have to have a personal account, for example, to use their Business Manager tool).

Marketing networks are the next step in successful online business, and PeepSo has everything you need to get started.

 

Outsourcing Censorship: Who Cleans Up Your Social Network’s Feed?

To keep offensive content out of our newsfeeds, social networking sites can employ one of two strategies: they can “active moderate”(screening every single post uploaded), or they can rely on their users to report anything suspicious or unsavory, and pass those reports over to content moderators. Larger sites like Twitter and Facebook tend to use the latter strategy and, given the sheer number of reported posts daily, it’s understandable that they’d decide to outsource moderation of reported content.

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Image via Tony Adams on Flickr.

Many of the people who spend their days looking through reported content are horrendously underpaid international contractors, making as little as one dollar per hour plus commissions (estimated to bring their average rate of pay up to four dollars an hour). They’re often highly educated and must pass a stringent English test in order to gain the role. Most content moderators end up leaving the role due to the psychological damage caused by hours of looking through incredibly disturbing content, from beheadings to animal torture. On-shore workers are better paid and can have very good physical working conditions, but still end up suffering greatly from what they have to look through each day: in an interview with Wired, a US based former content moderator describes developing depression and problems with alcohol as a result of the videos he was moderating for YouTube.

While Facebook’s public documentation keeps its content guidelines relatively vague, they’re laid out in explicit detail for its content moderators. A Moroccan contractor recently released his copy to Gawker, and its seventeen pages are divided into sections like “sex and nudity”, “hate content” and “graphic content.” Cartoon urine is okay, real urine is not. Deep flesh wounds and blood are okay, mothers breastfeeding is not. Some posts are judged on their context, rather than their content (eg, videos of animal abuse are okay as long as the person who posted it clearly thinks animal abuse is wrong). Strangely, all photoshopped content (whether positive, negative or neutral) is approved for deletion.

When you think about it, it’s concerning how little most social media users know about the rules they are expected to follow, or about the people and processes involved in enforcing those rules. One of the major benefits of starting your own social network is that you’re playing by your own rules – and you know exactly what those rules are. You decide what is acceptable, and what is not; both in terms of common decency, and keeping your community on-message.

Facebook Groups: The Social Network Within a Social Network

In 2010, Facebook completely revamped their Groups product; the idea was to create smaller communities within Facebook where people could discuss a shared interest, talk with their family members, buy and sell goods within their local community, connect with any of the smaller microcosms within the macrocosm of Facebook. Groups can be open (anyone can take part in the conversation), closed (anyone can request to join and see the group’s members and description, but won’t see content until they’re approved) or secret (you have to be invited by an existing member to even know the group exists). You can opt-in to get a notification every time someone posts in the group, see all posts to the group in your newsfeed, or only see content when you visit the group’s page.

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Facebook Groups: proof that people want smaller-scale social networks

Given how much Facebook filters newsfeed content from Pages, it’s no wonder businesses are turning to Groups to interact with their customers. Groups also allow you much more control over who can see and interact with your content, meaning businesses have less trolls and spammers to deal with. Posts are ordered by last interaction (a new comment will send a post to the top of the group’s feed), rather than by popularity; and you can guarantee that, unless they opt out, your members will see everything you post – without you having to pay exorbitant advertising/boosting fees. You can control content by creating your own list of group rules, and remove any members who don’t abide by them.

When people ask what’s the point of creating your own social network, they only need to look to Facebook Groups – the popularity of this service shows that there’s a demand for smaller online communities. These groups *are* their own social networks, we just don’t identify them as such because they come under the Facebook umbrella.

Facebook Groups are still subject to Facebook’s rules and regulations; you might be able to ensure everyone you’re connected with will see your posts, but Facebook still has the right to collect data about you and your group members, and they can remove your group without notice. If you create your own social network, on your own website, you get all the benefits of a Facebook Group without any of the drawbacks. You’re also able to connect with people who might not want to join the macrocosm of Facebook for personal reasons, or who might not want business activities connected with a personal account.