Category Archives: Lizzie Davis

Q&A with Laura Oliver, community coordinator, news at the Guardian

What does your job involve?
My job is to be a bridge between readers and users of and our news team and to try and find better ways for readers to engage with, interact with and consume our news output. As part of this I’m responsible for monitoring feedback to on and off site, coming up with new ideas and editorial products off the back of reader ideas and demands and ensuring that‘s news is making connections to the wider web and other online communities to better distribute our news and find new audiences for it.
Laura Oliver the Guardian
What is an online community, is it just about comments?
Comments are a part of it but they only represent those readers who feel happy to contribute in this way. We need to work on ways to encourage and manage constructive comments whilst tapping into other ways to get our readers involved and – more importantly – represented on site and in the newsmaking process. Online communities exist in so many forms – from social networks and forums, to blogs with dedicate followings and gamers. They can spring up through interest, geography or platform. Being aware of the range of online communities out there can only help us reach a wider audience with our news, and if we’re clever about it we can find ways to serve particular communities without duplicating their existing networks.
Why are online communities important?
Simply put – because for online news this is your audience, this is who is consuming, sharing and spreading your work. Just as a good business will listen to what it’s customers especially regulars say, we too need to be aware of the people who are reading and interacting with Guardian news on and off site. They are important in lots of ways: for feedback, traffic, generating new editorial ideas, keeping us accountable and filling in the gaps in both our news coverage of a certain event and in a broader sense, by taking a story or issue to new angles and new discussions.
Why are newspapers in particular trying to create and encourage them?
To create a news product that is of the web and not just on it by bringing in interactivity; to hold us to account; to make use of the expertise and knowledge of our readers and encourage them to fill in gaps in our coverage and make it better; and because building a community will hopefully build loyalty and time spent on a site or page, which can also have commercial potential.
How do you manage a large online community?
At the moment we’re trying lots of things: rewarding good or constructive users (in different ways); working closely with our fantastic moderation team; encouraging all members of the news team to get involved in community building and management; using tools to track communities around news eg on Twitter and analytics to measure what they are doing on our site and when to inform future decisions. There’s no one golden rule – it’s about having different strategies that will work with different sorts of readers and can operate within the boundaries and language of other existing communities such as Facebook or bloggers.
Is this journalism?
I think this is a question that needs to die! It’s an increasingly important part of the news production process and a role that sits along with many that would either previously not have existed or not been considered journalism by those who want to keep that term reserved as a means of protection in a rapidly changing workplace. To anyone who questions the importance of communities to journalism, you have to ask- well what are producing this news for if not to be consumed by your audience? They now want to be part of the informing process and there’s no way to turn back that tide; journalism should no longer exist in isolation from its audience
What is the future for online communities?
In terms of online communities around news, I think we’re only just starting to see how news organisations can make the most of what the web has to offer to better serve their readers around news coverage. We’ll see more tools springing up to help us manage and build communities and lots more experiments in doing so – both good and bad. Hopefully we’ll also see continue growth across the industry in these kind of roles and understanding of why they are important.

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Changing Media Summit 2011: what happened?

The Guardian are leading the way in social media among so-called “old media” companies. their forums are thriving, their website is constantly updated and each individual section has its own individual twitter feed.

Is it any surprise, then, to find that they also host one of the most important events in the media calendar?

The Changing Media Summit took place last week and had speeches from the CEO of YouView, CEO and chairman of AOL, co-founder of Foursquare, director of partnerships Facebook.


Picture: barto, Flickr

At a few hundred pounds per ticket we lowly bloggers had to give the event a miss. But I’ve a hunch that many of you did too. Thankfully, the Guardian, wise wise media provider that it is have posted interviews with many of the speakers online. This is where all the developments are happening, community makers. This is future in the making.

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Facebook Community

In this video we look at problems that can arise in large online communities such as Facebook.

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Online community to watch fundraising concert for Japan

Classical music audience

Royal Albert Hall. Photo: St Stev, Flickr

In just under half an hour two colossi of the classical music scene – Simon Rattle and Daniel Barenboim will conduct a concert with two of Berlin’s legendary orchestras (the Staatskapelle Berlin and the Berliner Philharmoniker). They aim to raise money to help survivors of the Japanese earthquake.

The fact that these two conductors and orchestras are performing on the same evening and in the same venue may be unusual enough but why would I be writing about it here?

The answer is that it is being broadcast in the “Digital Concert Hall“, an online video link, essentially. But like a physical concert hall, you have to pay for a ticket. This digital hall is run by the Berlin Philharmonic with the aim of broadening their audiences and taking their music to a much larger number of people per concert.

For each concert, therefore, the Berlin Phil create a one-off online community – a digital echo of the audience physically there in the concert hall. And, of course, the fact that they charge means more revenue or – in this evening’s case – more funds raised.

Do buy a ticket if you can – these orchestras are truly brilliant and the proceeds could not be going to a worthier cause. Doors have just opened!

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Five weird online communities

You’ve heard about Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Myspace. But here are ten that I bet haven’t made it onto your radar. And probably for good reason…

1. 23andme
Spit in a bottle, send it off to 23andme and they claim to be able to analyse your DNA to tell you about your physical traits (which presumably you already know about), risk factors for 97 diseases, your predicted response to drugs and learn about your ancestral origins.  Medical break-through or Chillingly Orwellian?

2. Blippy
Join this website to share all your credit card purchases with the world. They don’t quite put it that way of course. This is the PR version: “Blippy is a site that lets you share your purchases and see what your friends are buying online and in real life.” A step too far?

3. Togetherville
A social networking site for kids – a kind of facebook for little’uns. Much is made of the safety of this site on their welcome page but am I alone in thinking kids should be making real life friends, not learning how to become “responsible digital citizens”. I also object to the use of the words “awesomosity” and “kidtacularity” in this video.

4. Klout
Think online communities set you free from the politics of the real world? Think again. Klout is a social network which measures your, well, clout, in the digital world. There must be a rule written somewhere that humans can’t just DO an activity, they have to MEASURE themselves doing it. And find out who is best. Sigh.

5. Miso
Miso is an attempt to make that most private of activities – watching TV – social. You can see what your friends are watching, see what they think of it and they can see what you’re watching. And points are involved somewhere along the way. Perhaps you gain points for an education programme but lose them for watching Dancing on Ice…


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Are Exclusive Communities better?

No Entry

Picture: Antony Theobald

In the film, The Social Network, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg is determined to keep the social networking site “cool”. And arguably one of the reasons that Facebook was so “cool” and successful was its perceived exclusivity. First it was only for people at Harvard, then only people at certain American universities and then only at university. Exclusivity was its appeal – at least at the start.

So is the Times Online on to a good thing with its pay wall? There is no quicker way of making something exclusive than making people pay to get in. Times Online is now an exclusive online community – and if the pay wall experiment succeeds that will be why.

Exclusivity brings with it the suggestion of quality. Times Online is the grammar school of websites, weeding out the riff raff with the equivalent of an entrance exam. Fewer trolls, fewer mindless vindictive comments on opinion pieces, more intelligent discussion.

Or will it just be a richer breed of troll? Because of course the pay wall is not like an entrance exam, you just have to pay your way in – like the worst kind of private school.

So which is the way forward do you think? The all-encompassing, trolls and all approach, as seen in the Guardian’s community, or the VIP area of Times Online?

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Local Communities Online: WHampstead

So far, this blog has dealt with communities centred around interests or specific websites. But what about old-fashioned, flesh-and-blood communities which have flowed-over (or over-flowed) on to the web?

As a resident of NW London – Willesden Green, to be precise – I am lucky enough to be part of a vibrant, witty and extremely useful online community. @WHampstead is a micro-blogger based (surprisingly) in West Hampstead who tweets about anything and everything WHamp-based. There are travel updates, hashtagged with #whamptravel, reviews of local restaurants and important news (#whampnews) from, for example, council meetings.

All hugley useful, but @WHampstead has not managed to gain nearly 2000 followers simply by re-tweeting council reports. Oh no. Because of the opt-in/opt-out set up of Twitter, it is a site which lends itself to bloggers who are not only useful but also entertaining and @WHampstead is that in droves. So his followers might get an update on the (inevitable) delays on the Jubilee line but mintues later something like this might be tweeted.

WHampstead also recognises that Twitter is not a megaphone. He retweets as much as he tweets and engages the members of his community in conversation.

So hurrah for WHampstead and his varied, informative, ridiculous Twitter stream. Here are a few of my favourites:

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Should online communities self-regulate?

We’ve spoken on here about how moderation works and who’s in charge of enforcing guidelines. But what about communities which span several different websites and platforms? Should they be regulated and if so how?

King Arthur

King Arthur's Round table - just like the blogging community?

Twespians, as I have mentioned elsewhere, is a regular “tweet-up” for people who write about, tweet about and generally think far more than is healthy about theatre. At their latest session, held at the beginning of the month, Laura Tosney, who blogs about theatre and social media, had an interesting suggestion: a Blogging Code of Honour.

I like it. It sounds like something from the stories of King Arthur. And I also think I already abided by one. That’s the thing about online communities – just like old-fashioned, flesh-and-blood communities, you have to be “nice” to be included. If you wrote vitriolic posts about the other bloggers in the community, or skulked around message boards, trolling any new post, you would be rejected by the community.

So thanks to Laura for putting it down in writing and for getting a debate going. These were the suggestions she had – click on the links to hear audio clips from her presentation (the script can be found on her own blog with the cute slides – but you don’t get the inspired ad libs). Anyway, can you think of any others to add to her list?

1. Transparency

2.Right of Reply

3. Don’t Watch from the Sidelines

4. Make it a Conversation

5. Create a community

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Theatre addicts anonymous

Theatre is undergoing a revolution – no longer is the critic’s word the final one, no longer are they the first to publish reviews and no longer is their voice the loudest. This is the story of the rise of the theatre blogger.

Over the last few years there has been an explosion of bloggers – from the big ones like West End Whingers or The Public Reviews, to the smaller Carousel of Fantasies, There Ought to be Clowns and even my own Theatrigirl. On top of that, stage forums such on sites like Broadway World or What’s On Stage are buzzing with industry gossip, fan chat and people moaning about inappropriate audience behaviour.

speech marks bloggerThere appears to have been a never-ending appetite for theatre news and reviews which the traditional culture pages and critics were not fulfilling. And no doubt the introduction of a paywall of The Times and Sunday Times websites has also had an impact in the rise of the so-called citizen reviewer.

Theatre critics are, it must be acknowledged, a strange breed – hugely knowledgeable and inevitably harder to please than the average man on the street. The Public Reviews grew up as a reaction to this culture – everyone who writes for this site (myself included) is unpaid and has a day job, usually completely unrelated to journalism. And the site, run by actor John Roberts, now gets in excess of 100,000 visitors a month.

For all these bloggers, fans and even the occasional actor, Twitter is a vital tool to keep abreast of industry developments and two tech-savvy thesps realised that although this online interaction is all well and good, it would be nice to meet-up face to face. A tweet-up, if you will. So they started Twespians – a social evening for theatre people who tweet. Bloggers, critics, forum and community managers, theatre workers and actors will all be heading to their next event on 21 Feb. I’ll be there and gathering tips on how to manage such a vast and unwieldy online community – and trying to remember everyone’s name.


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The true worth of online communities

Comments Online

Here’s a really interesting piece from the Guardian’s CiF site on what people get out of their online communities – and why they are so addictive.

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