Journey through the Interwebz

How online communities, forums & social media shaped the internet and more importantly- my career.

A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking at an event at JS. It was called “Hello Hacker” and I was there to talk about Mozilla Learning, Mozilla Campus Clubs and community building.

I have a pen..I have an apple

Events are really exciting because you get the opportunity to interact with amazing people & hear their story. It was an absolute joy to listen to Harishankaran of HackerRank about his entrepreneurial journey, Sayan Goswami of Mu Sigma about Modularization & Anirban Saha of Kolkata Bloggers talking about Personal Branding. Thanks Arkodyuti for inviting me.

Great speakers and the wonderful organizers

During the talk, Anirban spoke about how the internet has evolved from an era of anonymity to personal branding. Remember the time when Yahoo chat rooms were extremely popular? The ASL plz era?

Although I made Anirban feel old during my talk 😉, I myself just realized how old I was- on the internet!

Internet and online forums

Here’s a fact about me- I was probably the last person in my friends circle to join Facebook. I didn’t even have an Orkut account! I had a Myspace account.😶

About 8 years back is probably when I started having my digital footprint on forums. Now if you grew up in Kerala with a BSNL broadband connection, you probably know that torrents would take ages to download! RapidShare(known as RS) and MegaUpload(MU) accounts were super popular. However, their free versions had a lot of limitations & it was the search for Premium accounts that got me signing up for online forums. Among them were HackForums, Reddit & a couple of others that are now taken down. This was the first time I learned about Community Moderation-Mods, Super Mods, Admins! If you’ve been a part of a vBulletin or a MyBB forum, you know what I’m talking about! It was huge(on that note, Discourse is totally killing it)! These people are respected on the forums. So now, I , wanted to be a forum Moderator! That’s right beeches!

This was also the time when forums with warez in their name/URL were trending. Some of these were super popular as well! I joined a couple of them and eventually became the moderator of a forum. On forums, you level up from being a moderator to super moderator and finally- admin. I was the Super Mod on two warez forum. I also became an admin on a forum about S60/S40 (kids, these were versions of the super popular Symbian platform on Nokia devices). There was a point when I had an argument with someone from school and I thought to myself-

Hey a$$h013, if you were on my forums, I would’ve banned you! Unfortunately, he was IRL. 😒

Back on HF, I was awestruck by the ways in which the forum admin, our internet God-Omniscient, used to monetize from it:

  • L33t & Ub3r accounts were $18 & $43 respectively.
  • Awards on the forum starting from $25 going upto $500.
  • Donate 1 BTC(bitcoin) for a specific award.
  • Buy banner ads for $40 per day or $200 for a week
  • A sticky thread costs anywhere between $20 to $80 a week, depending upon which sub forum it is in.

Here is the full list of advertising options. What’s interesting is there are so many ub3r’s and l33t’s on HF. Most of these users also have awards. Yes, crazy enough to pay 1 BTC or $500 for a 1 pixel on a website! Lots of people donate every day to HF. Ads & sticky threads are sometimes on a waiting list!

With any successful online community comes the risk of having trolls, or intellectual bullies. It’s interesting how moderators often deal with this. At least, on HF, there are very strong guidelines and that leaves no room for people to complain.

Fast forward a couple of years-

My career as a full-time community manager

Spending more and more time with people, communities, interest groups and the web, I started developing an affinity towards Communities. From being a computer science engineer to taking up Community management as a full-time role in a country that doesn’t understand communities, sure isn’t easy. It’s just mind blowing how much time and research are spent on community management. The wonderful folks at CMX & FeverBee are doing a great job at it.

If you’re a part of a great community, take a moment to appreciate your community manager for all the wonderful things he/she has been doing. If you’re running a community, pat yourself on the back! You deserve it.

That’s right! You’re the friendly neighborhood super hero of your community

So much goes into communities and yet, very few of us in India recognize the potential of this field. It’s extremely difficult to explain what community managers do, in a country where there’s no focus on communities. At the end of a conversation about what I do for a living, it really annoys me when people ask- So you do Marketing/Sales/Outreach/Social Media?

The behaviour of people on forums(remember the trolls I was referring to earlier?) not very different from that in online communities(because they’re people too, duh). Online communities and community managers are no strangers to trolls. We encounter them pretty often and have to take measures to deal with them. Dealing with intellectual bullies in an online community is the most unpleasant aspect of the internet. An intellectual bully may be adding value, but is mostly condescending, rude and aggressive, writes Alexandra. Another more challenging and yet, all the more interesting idea is engaging at an offline level with your online community through events, meetups, conferences etc. This gives you an opportunity to connect and build a relationship, which is much stronger when it’s offline. Relationships play a key role in communities because people change companies & move on but what remains is the relationship. I got a chance to learn more about community engagement from the engagement superstar Scott Gould. While community management is in a very nascent stage in Asia, it sure is very promising. There’s a huge amount of potential and it was inspiring talking to Todd Nilson about this. Gave me a reassurance of my life choice of taking up community management. 😁

Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned a lot from various people about community management. These people are experts in the industry who were more than happy to get on a Skype call, or reply on twitter or on Slack despite their busy schedules. Here’s to you all the #cmgr rockstars!

Let me know about your experience with online communities, tips on community management, challenges you came across being a community manager or even if you just want to say hi.

If you’ve come this far, I’d love to connect with you.