Rainmaking via developer communities

A coupla' developers I know, alpha versions ;-)

All online businesses need to be looking for faster, wider and deeper distribution of their content or services. Think about your own strategy. Does your online product or service already have an API? Should it?

Your business is a platform.

In order for this model to work, you will need to attract top independent developers to apply their magical brains and coding chops to your business and to encourage a developer community to grow within the heart, mind, soul and body of your business.

You can call it a developer program, but do not mark it as a technical or support task, put it down as a primary business development strategy because that’s what it is, it’s rainmaking.

What you’ll want to do is to create the conditions for a community to form, thrive, produce and grow.

Think gardening, not engineering. Don’t manage, cultivate.

The goal is to populate your ecosystem with energetic, creative and technically gifted individuals, groups and companies that are highly motivated to invest their own time and money by building new businesses on your platform. As the successful services built on your API’s become important distribution channels for your business they will probably, in the aggregate, grow larger and faster than your own branded distribution.

Let’s get practical. I see five basic phases that must be addressed in order to benefit from a developer program (assuming, of course, that your API actually solves a problem that merits solving): creation, activation, retention, productivity and growth.

Creation: In more traditional business lingo this would be called lead generation or customer acquisition, but here we are concerned with preparing the fertile, accessible and attractive top soil in which to grow a developer community. You will need to:

+ clearly define the value proposition to developers;
+ identify a developer profile likely to understand and to be excited by your business and figure out the best channels in which to strut your stuff: niche blogs, social media channels, industry events, personal networking and SEO for starters;
+ plan self-hosted events and contests; and
+ provide great tools so that developers can kick the tires!

You must have someone in your organization that is fluent in the social skills of a tummler, AKA someone that knows how to guide, encourage/reprimand, engage/ignore, shout/whisper, cajole and generally spark online conversations and communities. You won’t get past this first stage without a tummler!

You are creating the culture in which the community will define and nourish itself. Read: Communities of Yes.

Activation: Once you have the attention and interest of a community, your focus ought to shift — make the community aware of its own existence by offering online and real world opportunities for members to get to know you and each other.

This is the most delicate and difficult phase. The quality of your business proposition and the awesomeness of your technology must be amplified as you make individual developers feel like they are part of an active community, that they have a real opportunity to create a viable business, are important to your company, are respected for their creativity, technical abilities and feedback.

Your program should:

+ allow for fast and easy registration;
+ permit cost-free to access to experiment, no obligation;
+ require payment only for deployed apps with no lockin;
+ offer quick start guides, examples, implementation ideas;
+ have a wide variety of devices available for testing at your hacker events;
+ provide support and direct channels to your team; and
+ be built on a reliable, robust and standards-compliant technological platform.

Sponsor developer pitch contests, hackdays and participation in industry events. Keep in close touch with your developers throughout their participation in order to suss out hiccups before they become problems, turn crazy ideas into tangible products and discover use patterns.

Retention: If you can achieve all this, you will have also built the loyalty necessary to retain the attention of developers that have become part of the community! This is an incredibly valuable driver of the entire program because these developers will begin to spread the word to others in their social and professional networks. The developer community itself can be great generator of buzz and organic marketing.

Productivity: Some developers will innately understand the market, their product ideas and the value of the API as good or better than you do. They will ship successful products and provide incredibly valuable suggestions, improvements and feedback. They will also inspire other developers and create healthy coopetition.

For these developers your job is to make sure that they know you are listening. Respond quickly and positively to their requests and questions and proactively add features that you know they will appreciate.

There will be other developers just as keen to work with you, but who’ll need more guidance and support. This can be very time consuming, so you must make sure to have tools such as wikis, forums or knowledge bases that allow these interactions to be as public and searchable as possible to reach the maximum number of similarly situated developers.

In the beginning is much better to have a lower number of high value success stories than many low value ones. The high value successes, over and above their direct business value, will bring in many more new developers just by word of mouth.

Track the statistics of your developer community based on the metrics that make most sense for your business. At a minimum you should be able to analyze the number of registrations, number of apps and projects, apps per developer, developer churn, support activities, most effective marketing channels and word of mouth growth. Look for bottlenecks and figure out how to improve your performance. Don’t forget to also keep tabs on your brand’s online buzz and reputation in the world outside of your own community.

Growth: If you’re firing on all cylinders, your organic growth numbers should already be happily trending upward. You can encourage further growth by getting better at the activities that I already described and by thinking about new ways that you can make your developers be more successful.

Here’s a list of other things you could consider doing to up your game:

+ promote top developer projects in your company’s marketing campaigns;
+ provide help with app store submissions when needed;
+ open doors to industrial partners that developers may not have access to — mobile operators, handset manufacturers or media companies;
+ provide expert sessions at your hackdays; and
+ provide a place for non-developers (B2B customers and end-users) to post job requests and product ideas. Then help put them in touch with the best developers in the community.

Want to see how it’s done? The most recent Music Hack Day in NYC is a great example. Check out the list of sponsors and the API’s that were hacked. And you don’t need to be in NYC or Silicon Valley to have a successful event, hackers can be found everywhere! Look what Max Ciociola Stefano Bernardi did in Milano: HackItaly was a mega-successful event.

The beauty of this kind of program is that the direct economic benefit is just the start. Your developer community is also resource for market and technological research, recruiting new talent and strengthening your place in the larger ecosystem. And it’s fun :-)

Curation. And ants.

Singing together, curating sound :-)

Harmony is curation, curation is harmony.

The curation is king meme is having a day in the sun. This is the kind of article that editors love to publish — it declares a winner in a zero-sum game between the old champion Content and the contender, Curation. The article posits that Old King Content has been ousted “because it isn’t scarce. It’s everywhere, it’s overwhelming, and it’s gone from quality to noise.” Of course there’s too much for any one person to slog through, but if content is of secondary value, then what are we curating?

But Rosenbaum has got it very right on one crucial point:

@sanchezjb I don’t agree – “Context” can be a smart algorithm – but “Curation” requires a human. I think humans are essential -Tue Jun 15 18:17:20 via TweetDeck

He also seems to be saying that this victory of curation is a recent event. I’d take issue with that. The first Yahoo! directory was, at the time, state-of-the-art curation, not particularly scalable, rather unsocial and opaque, but it was curation. And, of course, Google’s revolutionary insight to use inbound links as a fundamental page ranking metric took people-powered curation into new territory.

Or: algorithm-aided human writing will meet human-aided algorithmic curation; quality will rise.Sun Dec 13 21:51:29 via Twitter for iPhone

Right on. Let’s drill down into the humanity angle.

The word curate derives from the Latin curare, meaning “to take care of“, something that we humans do for people and objects that are meaningful to us.

RT @ethpresso: @heathr it was awesome talking to you yesterday. Got great insight discussing r perspective on curation+human relationship :) Sat Jun 12 21:06:23 via Brizzly

The Tummelvision crew (@heathr, @debs and @kevinmarks) have been exploring this human side of how digital communities and conversations are born and thrive. They’ve adopted “Tummel” as their verb of choice. It’s a Yiddish word used to describe the act of catalyzing others to action and I highly recommend tuning in to their show.

Just as Suw Charman-Anderson blogged about this way back in 2006, it still is fresh and true today:

Curators already exist. Some are people: Bloggers who sift through tonnes of stuff in order to highlight what they like, and who, if you have the same taste as them, can be invaluable to discovering new things to like. Some are aggregators: Site that gather lots of little bits of stuff and present them in aggregation and help us find the bits that the majority find to be good. Some are algorithms: recommendation systems and search.

@hrheingold this one by Sviokla on audience curation: http://bit.ly/cuoD3y which is what @debs @heathr and I call tummelingFri Jun 11 19:19:33 via Seesmic

What would I do without Kevin Marks’ curation?

In Three Tips for Curating Your Audience, John Sviokla writes about taking care of your audience, also known as customers if you happen to be in the business of selling stuff. (I’d take issue with the term audience for these reasons.)

Taking care of your curators means finetuning the curation. In socially-powered services like Facebook and Twitter we curate the people that we choose to friend or follow by keeping them interested in what we have to say and we also adjust our flows by un-friending or un-following in a more or less constant feedback loop.

And now, let’s bring on the ants!

Social bookmarking is stigmergic curationSat Jun 12 05:13:29 via Seesmic

Social bookmarking is a shining example of people-powered curation and was brilliantly executed by the creator of Delicious, Joshua Schachter. But what is stigmeric curation, HUH?

Did you ever wonder how ants manage to organize themselves into those superhighways of efficiency to bring the food back to the colony? Well, that’s stigmergy in action and this survival-oriented curation mechanism is how we create our own superhighways of inter-linked information :-)  I actually wrote about this back on October 16, 2003. Take a look at “What do blogs and ants have in common?” to learn more. It’s a much shorter post than this one!

What are the “economics” of curation?

Clay Shirky from Here Comes Everybody to Cognitive Surplus: Creativity & Generosity in a Connected Age http://tinyurl.com/25hytewMon Jun 14 14:05:58 via web

I was talking about this notion of online generosity with my friend ocrampal the other day, and he questioned whether curation was primarily generosity-powered as I was saying. In fact, I think he’s right, the answer is more subtle. Social networks and community-powered curation works not so much from generosity as from the very good deal that participation offers.

Let’s call it fair price curating. In other words, contributing to the system is the price you pay to get value out of the system. More often than not I get more out than I put in. It feels like I am getting my curated information below cost —  that I’m gaining much more than I’m spending in terms of time, effort and satisfaction.

I guess that’s because once everybody contributes their info bits, it costs the system very little to redistribute the information in infinitely variable combinations as requested by huge numbers of people and ever more sophisticated technological tools.

I haven’t yet read Clay Shirky’s new book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, but I intend to and would be curious to see how he sees it.

I also think about generosity in the context of personalized Q&A services like Hunch, Quora or Aardvark. Adrian Chan frames the problem this way:

Both questioner and answerer must have a satisfactory experience for the service to work. In fact the service really hangs on the experience of the answerer. The questioner has an immediate and present need or interest — not so the answerer. His or her motives for participation have to be incentivized or contextualized by other means.

Are earning a good reputation and earning increased self-esteem by virtue of knowing the answer sufficient social drivers? Time will tell what the sustaining factors really are as these services grow and evolve.

At the end of the day…

Curation is the central issue of our socially networked culture. This mutual mediating, to riff on Kevin Mark’s coinage, turns the firehose of our collective activity streams into a refreshing drinking fountain.

Call it curating, crowdsourcing, stigmergy, page rank, social networking, lifestreaming or a thousand other terms, its objective is to deliver information and entertainment that may be useful or surprising, silly or serious, funny or annoying — when, where and how we want it.

Thanks also to JP Rangaswami for thoughts that inspired this post:

Curators add to relevance by stripping away the irrelevant and the unneeded and the shoddy.

In order to improve consume-ability and relevance, curators need the tools to do this. There are two ways these tools will come about, the “nice” way and the “nasty” way. In the nice way, the producers and distributors make it easy for people to point to, package and pass on the relevant pieces.