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Mark Fuerst

Great comments, Ann.

John Montét

I think you are exactly right, Ann. The biggest challenge we have a public broadcasters is pulling the people together. The idea of community is not a foreign concept to our viewers/users. Rather, it is a ubiquitous part of being a supporter of public media. The challenge is how to form that inherent need into a platform that best accommodates this human characteristic.

The trick is to understand your audience and build your efforts accordingly. We all know that simply putting up a Web site isn't enough. Without promotion, there will be no usage of the service. We also know that our users have this common need to be part of a community – as the IMA Conference demonstrated admirably. Therefore, the key is to meet the user on their own expectations, then let them know these services exist.

This may mean that formal user analysis is needed (that is a determination that must be made on an individual station basis based on available funds), but there is another solution. That is the stepped integration of services. In other words, start small, in places you know you can interface with a core audience, the work up from there. This will not only make the adoption of these services easier for the group, but will also make it easier to promote.

For example, start by adding a discussion capability to some section of your Web site. Allow users to comment on specific items (program features, special reports, individual programs, etc.), then step up that integration. A possible next step would be to funnel those comments to a community location. This could be the leap to a gather.com site, or to a more intermediary, though larger, discussion platform.

The point is to analyze your audience, meet them at their preference in simple ways, then slowly build upon that base. We must build communities, rather than force into existence.

I should mention that the need to belong, as defined by Erich Fromm, is human characteristic central to our existence. It is not simply a trait common to public media users. With this understanding, the more we can accommodate this humanistic tendency, the greater our efficacy.

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If the idea behind pub-casting friendly social networking is to build stronger bonds, the more people participating, the higher the value of the service. So, we need to make it fun and easy. I say this because, in prep of the conference, I signed up for Gather and I'm still a bit befuddled. They've made it easy to create accounts and invite friends, but how do you find someone to talk to? It's like going to a party where everyone is in different rooms behind closed doors. Which door do I knock on, and what do I say? What if the folks I pick aren't expecting company? On the other hand, the World Crossing boards I post on are like a big open conversation. You can eavesdrop without worry and it's fun to make new friends.

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