As many of you know, I wear like 8 hats in the XBMC community, from publicity guy to project manager to operations to administration to junior business dev in training to whatever the team needs this week. But the hat I most frequently find myself wearing (and the one I tend to identify myself as the most) is Community Manager.
That means I’m the guy who posts on Facebook and Twitter (and when I remember, Google+). I’m the guy who usually tries to mediate any major forum disputes. And I’m the guy who works to connect the developers to the users.
The thing is, I think it’s fairly safe to say that I could be doing a better job. Honestly, if you run into a Community Manager who doesn’t think they could be doing a better job, you should probably work to get that CM fired. This isn’t the kind of position that rewards resting on one’s laurels.
I mention all that as background for some thinking I’ve been doing over the past few weeks. One of the distinguishing features of the XBMC user base is an extremely dedicated community. Our user base loves XBMC and loves talking about XBMC. They like to show off their installations. They like developing addons and showing off skins and collections. Honestly, I’ve been a part of a number of online communities, and the XBMC forums and social network sites are extremely high up on the list of site where sharing pictures, words, and video is just the standard thing to do. We have well over 100,000 forum members, and as many as nearly 5,000 of those members have actively been interacting on the forum in a given moment. We have over a million posts on over a hundred thousand threads. On a typical day, the forum is visited by an average of 33 thousand unique visitors.
The problem, as I see it, is that we have all these actives users and all of this user generated content, but our site is simply not designed to take advantage of it all. Anything in the forum has to be replicated on the front page. A great deal of work must be done to cross over a gate, and because doing so is so much duplicated effort, it is rarely done.
So with that in mind, I thought I’d take a minute to run a thought experiment on what WOULD be an ideal site for the XBMC user base. One that breaks down barriers and allows the entire community to quickly and easily learn about what things are going on, taking advantage of user content as it occurs.
My Ideal XBMC Site
To start, I think it goes without saying that my ideal XBMC site would be a community/reddit site. The most visited portion of the site is ALREADY a community site, in the form of the forum, so dramatically extending that portion of XBMC.org seems like a no brainer. Except instead of being presented with a list of categories and having to search for worthwhile content, each registered user would start at either a newsfeed page or their personal profile page.
The personal profile page would include a picture of themselves, an avatar they’ve chosen from either Gravatar or somewhere else, or a picture of their setup. For comparison, the Google+ profile About page is pretty decent, if unfocused. In addition, users could select whichever skins and addons are their favorites. Perhaps at some point in the future they could even connect their copy of XBMC with their profile, so any addons they had installed would show up on their profile, and any addons they like on the site could be installed to their machine, similar to the Google Play store.
On a second tab in this section, users would have the opportunity to blog, more in the manner of tumblr than WordPress or Blogspot, and they’d have a feed of past blogs of theirs. Users could write a few words or a few thousand words. They could upload pictures. They could possibly even link to Youtube or Vimeo video feeds that were somehow XBMC related. Users could ask questions and hope for answers from the community with the option of sharing as much or as little as they liked. Finally, before submitting the blog, they would be asked to tag the blog among a list of popular current tags, or create their own tag. Pre-existing tags might include XBMC for Windows Help, My Rig, Hardware Questions, or XBMC in the News. I suppose they could also post a link to the blog/question/whatever to their preferred social networks like Facebook or Twitter or Reddit, if they wanted. If they included a link under a particular tag, the system would notify them that the link in question had already been posted, and would suggest that they instead participate in somebody else’s discussion.
Finally, the third tab of the profile would be the Newsfeed. This feed would include a default of major news posts as selected by Team XBMC, as well as any posts that day that have been +1′d or liked or whatever enough to take up 3 or 4 (or more) spots. The feed would also include any posts of people that users have added as individuals they’d like to follow. For example, if a skilled skinner who is not a member of the team posts a lot about his awesome new skin, a user might choose to follow that skinner to catch all the exciting news about the skinner’s skin.
In addition, users could click on a field of popular tags, or do a search for tags that might be of interest, similar to the redditor’s ability to browse subreddits. In this way, we’d let the community decide what categories are really important to XBMC, rather than imposing the best guess of Team XBMC on a bunch of pre-determined categories. The categories that currently exist in our forum would naturally be converted into tags in this environment, and all past forum discussions would be pulled into this tagging environment. Also like subreddits, each tag could be given its own identity, with a community-provided background and a brief description of what the tag is about. For example, a General Help tag would include the description “Need help with XBMC? Please post under this tag if it’s a platform independent issue. If it is platform specific, we recommend posting in Windows, OSX, Linux, iOS, or Android.”
Somewhat unlike reddit, topics would not be weighted quite so heavily in favor of the new over the popular. If a topic continues to gain discussion over time, it would remain pretty high on the list, particularly in its given tag. Underneath the community nature of the site, a key goal would naturally still be to solve problems and make the user experience of XBMC better.
Other Pages on the Site
So those’d be the primary sections of the community site. Naturally, such a site would also require a certain number of “helper” pages that sort of fill out the XBMC mission.
First, there’d still be a front page for people who are not logged in that gives a quick overview of XBMC, provides a number of links, shows the current popular feed and current popular tags, and generally acts as a landing page.
Second, there’d be a download page, so users could easily download and install XBMC.
Third, there’d be an Addon page that users could browse and interact with to connect addons to their profile.
Fourth, there’d be a very simple “About Us” page that explains what XBMC is, what the mission of the Foundation is, and possibly links to the profiles of the members of Team XBMC.
Fifth, there’d be a “Contact Us” page that’s similar to the one already present on xbmc.org.
Sixth, there’d be a shop page, where users could browse XBMC merchandise and buy designs they liked. For example, a shirt similar to the 2012 DevCon shirt might be a popular seller.
Finally, there’d be a Wiki section that does what the current wiki does: namely, maintain a single repository for XBMC information that lasts over time.
The most important part of any community is… its community. It is the users, the fans, the people who like the topic more than the topic developers. XBMC always promotes from within the ranks of the fans, because those fans are the ones who have already dedicated so much of their time to a project that we all love.
As such, it seems right to me that any major step forward we take on our website is one that celebrates that community of users. To that end, if you happen to have any web coding skills, particularly of the js/php/python variety, or if you just feel strongly about this topic feel free to speak up. I’d love to hear your comments.
(Webpage mockups courtesy of balsamiq.com. Seriously, if you’re into webdev, Balsamiq is a must.)