whoosh: site launch for AnnArbor.com

Some notes, before I quit for the night, from the launch of AnnArbor.com .

We went live at 8pm Thursday.  I took a nap after coming home from work, got up at about 830pm, and went online looking at the comments; most of that evening was spent answering comments, dealing with details, being helpful and present and attentive.  As much as possible, I tried to be like Caterina and George were like at the launch of Flickr.  (I wish I had a better quote for this; here's the one I could find from Pinhead's Progress in 2006)

They wanted to make Flickr so that users were facing each other, instead of facing the website.

To
encourage this, George Oates and Caterina spent almost 24/7 greeting
each person who came in to the original chat client when it launched.
They had an app called "the newbie spotter" which would tell them who
was new and what their interest was (you filled this in on your user
profile) so Caterina or George would then introduce them to other
users: "I see you like … Black Metal. User GeorgM in Berlin also
likes Black Metal."

Flickr is like a party with a good host.
Someone there to take your coat, get you a drink, and introduce you
around. By setting up this culture of meeting people, they made Flickr
a distinctive, friendly, and ultimately successful site.

Friday am up again at 7am, another round of comment moderation; in at work at 9am after dropping my little one at preschool.  Most of the morning spent in the comment stream looking at all of the little things people were eager to catch and point out at launch.  (Miami University, not University of Miami of Ohio; more than one typo; a few links that went to the wrong web sites; other similar sorts of detail that you'd rather get right before people notice; flippedmovie.com is not the movie being filmed.)

When it was clear that things were not going to rattle apart and that there actually was something there that was starting to make sense, it got easier.  I sat out on the patio in front of the office, got my laptop out, and talked to some folks who came by.  Cory Knobel stopped by, and we talked about his PhD research and about complex systems in general and what sort of stories you are prepared to tell to make sense of things, especially when they break.  Kathy Griswold was also by to relate stories of clearing sight lines at sidewalk crossings and mid-block crosswalks, and the level of detail you need to be prepared to attend to to figure out just who owns which corner of which street and is responsible for maintenance.  I referred her to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Library for help in tracking down some of the publications she was having a hard time finding.

There were a welcome deluge of detailed, thoughtful comments on the site design and usability; as Cory noted, you will always have a usability evaluation, if only from the people who you want as your readers.  I'll be sorting through a bunch of that next week and helping capture feedback at enough detail that it can be turned into things that can change.

The big process failure so far is handling things from our "community news" section; some good stuff came in there, but I don't see that we are bird dogging it in the same way as we are comments.  Fixable but ultimately frustrating, especially when breaking news comes in and we are late to react.

The best commentary on the process comes from @common_squirrel

Picture 9

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One thought on “whoosh: site launch for AnnArbor.com

  1. Ryan

    Ed,
    I’m doing all I can to support annarbor.com. I’m excited about the new community, but many of the people I talk to and message with and frustrated with the comment moderation. It can seem arbitrary at one minute and unreasonably selective the next.
    What, in your opinion, is the best way to open a community dialogue with staff? Heck, we can even consider ourselves a user group now that the website is finally up and running!
    I think CLEAR guidelines in stead of “stay on topic” will help to ease peoples’ frustration.

    Reply

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