The Short Product Life Cycle of Online Communities

I’ve long been convinced that online communities and social networks have short life cycles.  Some much shorter than others.  I’m sure someone can run a pretty crude regression to see what all the important factors are but that’s probably a less valuable use of time than trying to solve the problem.  In this post, Alex Payne discusses the waning of Hacker News and what he sees are the ways to police the community to maintain quality.

Alex Payne — Solving The Hacker News Problem.

Notice his prescription is akin to stalling the progression of the product life cycle.  In essence, the only way you can stop the progression/growth of these communities is to treat it as if it weren’t a product.  That’s a moot point if monetization isn’t a concern but there’s something about pushing against online inertia that doesn’t sit well with me.  In my years doing business online, it’s much easier to be on the side going with that force than going against it.




3 thoughts on “The Short Product Life Cycle of Online Communities

  1. I think a large part of it ends up being an issue with human nature. If there is no opportunity cost then eventually spammers take over. Trajedy of the commons is not easy to overcome because if you charge distribution drops & if you are too against new blood then things start to feel stale and cliquish (and a lot of those folks will jump to the next thing when it comes out anyhow).

    I have helped build and promote multiple communities in the SEO niche & the lack of revenue model meant the eventual wither and decay of them. We offer a paid community on our site & I paused it for a few months to do tons of infrastructural upgrades (some of the software was a few years old, etc.) and within a week of soft launching it is already vibrant again. I think people knowing that everyone else is paying helps keep the quality much higher.

    And exclusivity makes it easier to maintain quality because you have the resources to keep things going well (plus people are far less anonymous after they pay with a credit card & browse with a visible IP address), as opposed to a free site that keeps growing blander and broader until it sinks into irrelevancy.

    I know Wikipedia is probably the one counter example to that trend (growing broad while still not decaying), but if they directly monetized it with ads I bet it would head south quickly. Rather they monetize it by flowing link equity out to other Wikia properties, and few people realize the value of that. And so wikipedia keeps getting larger…recently I noticed they had sport team statistics by player & by year for each club, and I couldn’t help but think they were going a bit broad there. But it is still working for them for now. 🙂

Comments are closed.