Community Is More Than Planet Brad

Since I’ve been working with and investing in Internet-related companies, I’ve always been fascinated with what creates a community.  Most of my investing activity has been around the infrastructure side of this problem – most notably companies that create the Internet substrate for creating, engaging, and managing community.  Occassionally I’ll venture into a company that is trying to do something with an actual community.

Recently, my head has been in this in two dimensions.  I’ve got a couple of “substrate” investments, including Me.dium and Lijit.  They started in different places but addressed a similar problem.  As they have evolved, they are diverging even more, but helping me really understand two sides of a very complicated issue.

The stimuli for thinking about both of these came from my realization – mostly through playing with MyBlogLog and talking to Fred Wilson – that I already had an actively engaged community on Feld Thoughts (yes – that would be you.)  My playing around with coordinating the FeedBurner VC Network helped me understand the dynamic even better.  But these were all self-referential communities – ones that were oriented around “Planet Brad” (I like to describe my own little world – the one that I’m at the center of – as Planet Brad – to distinguish it from the real universe), rather than ones that I joined because of affinity.

I’ve had a couple of investments around actual communities, including Judy’s Book, Enthusiast Group, and Dogster.  I’ve learned different things from each of these, but the most from Dogster about how a high affinity community actually grows.  When I first heard of Dogster, my reaction was probably the same as most investors (“social networks for dogs?  That’ll be a dog.”)  Wrong.  Ted and his gang get it and are masters of Planet Dog (and Planet Cat).  They’ve got a great quick presentation up that they did at CommunityNext titled Community Is Your Most Valuable Asset that is worth a look if you care about any of this stuff.

If you don’t, just remember that for those of us with mild dyslexia (or compulsions), we occassionally confuse dogs and gods, which occassionally turns into a really religious experience.