Team Management in Libraries

Behind every successful library service is a successful team management strategy. Team management is defined as the systems, practices and methods employed to coordinate and bind a group of individuals in pursuit of a common objective. Today’s librarian needs to consider a robust focus on team management in order to fully meet the changing needs of an ever-evolving service environment.

To grasp the basics of team management, it is most important to note that the terms ‘group’ and ‘team’ are not synonymous. Teams are dynamic, cohesive units, with common objectives, whereas groups often display ‘no commonality’ or ‘unified sense of purpose’ and lack ‘accountability for helping to achieve the team’s goals’ (Garavaglia & Mc Daniel, 2009, p.5)

Teams, as opposed to randomly grouped individuals, acheive their objectives via a synergetic process where ‘effective group interactions’ are actively and regularly encouraged. A successful team should see its members able to operate autonomously if required; ‘regardless of whether the team leader is present,’ the members should ‘feel firm in their commitment to the team and to its common purpose’ (Cottrell, 2011, p.223)

The key to effective team management lies within the organizational culture of the workplace. A manager needs to create a working culture that supports and rewards staff. This is developed over time as a set of values, attitudes, perceptions and memories which can determine behavioral expectations. A manager who does not align his team with the organizational culture of the library will not be prepared for change (Shepstone and Currie, 2008, pg. 358).

Poor team management can lead to the prevalance of a number of detrimental workplace practises. It allows for the creation of an environment ripe for conflict, depleting staff morale and leading to a lowered standard of service quality. Without a structured framework of clearly articulated goals, and its attendant sense of community, teammembers will often operate on wildly uneven, varying terms.

A strong team management culture is important for a myriad of reasons. A successful team leader can save money, time and energy for an organization by avoiding developing conflicts within the team. Libraries can reduce staffing costs through improving existing systems and promoting employee empowerment. It is suggested that ‘Membership of a team enhances both an employee’s day-to-day work activities and the end result of those efforts’ (Natale, Libertella, Edwards, 1998, p. 319)

A good team manager motivates, delegates, offers goal-focused feedback, assigns challenging tasks and takes a personal interest in his employees. He should select teammembers based on elements such as communication and problem solving skills. All these factors help to foster an effective and adaptable team. This is especially important in the information industry, where the service environment is constantly changing and can be potentially volatile.

But what happens if a manager is unable to develop an effective team? A poor team manager can create an environment in which employees feel marginalized and left out of the decision making process. Said employees are then less committed to the goals of the organization as a whole, which has serious ramifications for productivity, team morale and service quality.

Successful team managers are those that excel in binding a group of individuals in pursuit of a common cause. They understand that a positive management culture promotes enhancement of staff morale and day-to-day output, whereas poor team management can lead to an inefficient and disruptive workplace. Librarians need to develop a strong focus on team management because an ineffective team creates an environment that negatively impacts service quality.

Advertisements

Strategic Information Management Plan – GCCC

*** Please note – the document below was created as part of a purely theoretical exercise. It’s contents do not reflect any known practices of the Gold Coast City Council ***

A Strategic Information Management Plan for the Gold Coast City Council

Authored by Wyatt Shev

Executive Summary

This report focuses on the information management practices of the Gold Coast City Council, one of Australia’s largest regional councils. The seven stage information audit process developed by Henczel has been employed within this report. The Council Information Audit proposed by the author has been used as the basis for a Council Information Management Strategy, intended to enhance the Council’s existing information management practices. It is the author’s conclusion that these existing practices prove the capability of the Council’s information management systems. However, there are some possible alterations that can be made to said practices to ensure the Council continues to meets its self-imposed standards.

The author does not represent the Gold Coast City Council in any way. Analysis and evaluation within this report is based upon information made available to the general public.

1. Introduction

The Gold Coast City Council administers one of the largest local council regions in Australia. It serves as an agency devoted to the needs of the community and ongoing community development as well as a regulatory body for Gold Coast businesses and industry.

This report consists of three separate components. It contains a contextual overview of the Gold Coast City Council, including the Council’s general background and history, its organisational principles, goals and key areas of focus and its information collection and management policies. The report also contains an information audit and suggestions for an information management strategy to be implemented in the future. Henczel (2001) defines information auditing as a process that determines an information environment via the identification of an organisation’s information needs. Accordingly, the audit system advocated by Henczel has been employed in this report. Henczel’s system is divided into seven stages, which encompass:

  • Planning
  • Data Collection
  • Data Analysis
  • Data Evaluation
  • Communicating Recommendations
  • Implementing Recommendations
  • The Information Audit as a Continuum

The Planning and Data Collection stages are addressed in Section 2, Gold Coast City Council Overview. The Data Analysis and Data Evaluation stages are examined in Section 3, Council Information Audit. The Communicating Recommendations, Implementing Recommendations and the Information Audit as a Continuum stages are explored in Section 4, Council Information Management Strategy.

All data contained within this report has been sourced from documents the Gold Coast City Council has made available to the public.

All data contained within this report has been sourced from documents the Gold Coast City Council has made available to the public.

  1. Gold Coast City Council Overview

    2.1 General Background

The Gold Coast City Council governs a rapidly expanding population of over 500,000 residents. The most populous non-capital city in Australia, the Gold Coast is the second largest city in the state of Queensland. It is considered one of the nation’s most popular tourist destinations – boasting over 12 million visitors per year (GCCC, 2013) – and is home to a number of high-profile sporting events, theme parks and an international airport. The Gold Coast recently won a bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

The Gold Coast City Council administers a region spreading from the Albert River to the border between Queensland and New South Wales, employing more than 3,200 ongoing staff (GCCC, 2013). First established in 1948, the Council has existed in its present incarnation since 1995 (Wikipedia, 2013).

2.2 Organisational Principles

The Gold Coast City Council adheres a number of organisational principles, defined in the Council’s 2009-2014 Corporate Plan (GCCC, 2009, p. 5). These principles are summarised in the table below:

Principle Definition
Responsible Decision Making The Council aims to promote “balanced and transparent decisions” centering on community engagement and affordability. These decisions are to be continually evaluated via “adaptive management” techniques.
Responsible Leadership The Council supports “responsible and visionary leadership” in order to govern the City with “equity, clarity and determination.”
Collaborative Approach The Council aims to “empower citizens with a shared sense of responsibility” for the City’s governance.
Environment It is the Council’s intention to protect the “intrinsic value” of the Gold Coast’s natural environment.
People and Economy The Council promotes a long-term approach to fostering “economic security” and “social wellbeing”.

Table 1: GCCC Organisational Principles

 2.3 Council Goals and Areas of Focus

The Gold Coast City Council’s 2009-2014 Corporate Plan (GCCC, 2009, p. 9) outlines six key focus areas. These constitute the ongoing goals of the Council, justifying its operations. The Council aims to realise these goals via “corporate governance, organisational capability and customer contact” (GCCC, 2009, p. 9).

These developmental goals, as defined by the Corporate Plan, are:

  • A city leading by example
  • A city loved for its green, gold and blue
  • A safe city where everyone belongs
  • A city with a thriving economy
  • A city shaped by clever design

2.4 Information Collection and Management Policies

The Gold Coast City Council collects information on residents and employees in order to “ensure that Council business is conducted efficiently and effectively” (GCCC, 2010, p. 3). It retrieves information relevant to Council operations through published and unpublished documents, including surveys, property records, historical records, monographs, journals, technical literature and data collections. All collected information is stored and disseminated in accordance with the Information Privacy Act. As such, data “must be associated with the appropriate metadata summarising its characteristics” (GCCC, 2010, p. 2).

The collection and management of information integral to the Council’s operations is primarily accomplished via electronic means. However, due to the diversity of the Council’s information holdings, this condition cannot always be met. The Council’s information holdings include:

  • Drawings
  • Cartographic data
  • Internet content
  • Photos
  • Database Catalogues

Information collected by the Gold Coast City Council is generally accessible to Council employees and the public alike. The Council’s information assets “must be maintained and made available to Councillors, staff, management, residents of the city and the wider community” (GCCC, 2010, p. 1). Certain sensitive information is restricted to Council employees with appropriate clearance.

2.5 Responsibility for Collected Information

All Councillors and Council staff are deemed responsible for the information collected and disseminated by the Gold Coast City Council. Some Council members, however, have a higher degree of responsibility. These include:

  • The Executive Coordinator of Information Communications Technology
  • The Director of Organisational Services
  • The Chief Information Officer
  1. Council Information Audit

The Gold Coast City Council’s Corporate Plan (2009-2014) does not grant any specific importance to any of the key focus areas listed in Section 2.3. Each focus area contributes to an overarching target defined as the Triple Bottom Line (GCCC, 2009, p. 8), an ongoing development plan that considers the environmental, social and economic impact of the Council’s decisions on the overall sustainability of the city. There is no universal standard for the measurement of the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) system. This can be a positive, however, as Councillors are able to “adapt the general framework to the needs of different entities” (Slaper & Hall, 2011, p. 4) such as various corporate, social and infrastructure-based programs. In light of the Council’s utilisation of the TBL system, the Council Information Audit and Council Information Management Strategy components of this report will focus on what the author has defined as the broad and generalised information needs of the Gold Coast City Council.

3.1 Perceived Information Needs

To ensure the sustainability of the city, the Gold Coast City Council needs to satisfy a number of basic objectives pertaining to the needs of the general public, the business community and the ongoing development and maintenance of public and corporate infrastructure. In order to meet these objectives the Council must identify a number of basic information needs. The table below outlines these information needs as perceived by the author:

Information Need Purpose
Statistical Data (Community / Financial) Used to chart and calculate expected population growth, unemployment levels, median age etc. Also used to calculate budgets, gross regional profit and economic trends
Environmental Research Used to facilitate sensible environmental practices and measure the environmental impact of the Council’s decisions
Market Research (Business) Used to track employment by location, industry and sector. Also used to formulate corporate policy in conjunction with Future Forecasting
Stakeholder Input Used to facilitate communications between the Council and the community and local industry. Can also be used to as a means of evaluation and improvement of the Council’s services
Roads & Transportation Research Used to facilitate road maintenance and ongoing maintenance and development of public transport systems. Also used to plan future roadworks and public transport programs in conjunction with Future Forecasting
Future Forecasting Used to enable long-term planning on sustainability issues relating to the City and the Council. These encompass the local economy, social programs and obligations and environmental concerns
Performance Reports Used to evaluate the Council’s services in conjunction with Stakeholder Input results. Will determine if the TBL standards are being met
Educational Materials Used to measure the effectiveness of education systems under the Council’s governance in conjunction with Statistical Data. Also used to formulate new academic programs and services
Promotional Materials Used to promote the various social services offered by the Council to businesses and the general public

Table 2: GCCC Perceived Information Needs

3.2 Capability Evaluation

The Gold Coast City Council website provides a wealth of information on the organisational aspects of the Council and the region it represents. This majority of this information is made available to the general public. Data featured on the website includes various budgets, plans and reports, building and planning documents, environmental documents, community profiles, a full list of the council’s services (including online services) and promotional materials concerning the city’s various attractions. The methods by which the Council gathers, utilises and disseminates information are clearly presented, particularly through the Council Corporate Plan (2009-2014) and its Information Management and Information Policy document, both downloadable via the website.

An evaluation on the Council’s capability to meet its information needs has been made. Each information need has been assigned a rating according to a one to four star classification system, dependent on the relevance and accessibility of said information and whether it is relatable to the Council website’s defined audience (i.e. the general public). A rationale for each classification / rating has also been made.

The table below outlines these ratings and rationalisations:

Information Need Rating Rationale
Statistical Data (Community / Financial)

éééé

The GCCC website and its various downloadable documents provide ample access to annual budgets and reports and detailed information regarding population levels and employment via the Gold Coast City Community Profile
Environmental Research

éééé

The GCCC website contains extensive information concerning environmental action and education, environmental planning, sustainable living, waste and recycling and the protection of landscapes and wildlife
Market Research (Business)

ééé

There is sufficient evidence to support GCCC’s capabilities to capture and store data regarding business development and practices, as seen in economic development policies relating to investments, business initiatives, research and statistics and the tourism industry
Stakeholder Input

éé

There is limited evidence to suggest that the GCCC liaises with the community to develop means of evaluating and improving Council services. The website facilitates access to a range of community services but there are no online surveys regarding Council performance in place
Roads & Transportation Research

ééé

The GCCC website contains limited information on road infrastructure and major projects. However, there is sufficient evidence to suggest the GCCC directs an appropriate degree of attention to matters concerning public transport
Future Forecasting

ééé

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that the GCCC has planned for the future sustainability of the city, as seen in the detailed Gold Coast Planning Scheme
Performance Reports

éééé

The website provides easy access to annual reports, city budgets, corporate performance reports and the Corporate Plan. This suggests detailed research into this information need
Educational Materials

éé

The GCCC website contains a limited number of resources concerning education and educational resources. This suggests a lack of focus on this particular information need
Promotional Materials

éééé

The GCCC website contains extensive information concerning its available social services, including various registration forms, permits, licenses and facilities

Table 3: Evaluation of GCCC’s capability to satisfy individual information             needs

3.3 Valuation

To effectively realise each of the perceived information needs the Gold Coast City Council needs to utilise a number of resources, primarily sourced from taxpayer funds. In order to balance each year’s Budget, the Council must analyse its information management overheads against possible returns towards its defined Total Bottom Line goals. In order to effect this, the author has assigned cost / impact levels (high, medium and low) to each information need. ‘Cost’ refers to the initial and ongoing investment outlaid by the Council, and can refer to multiple resources (i.e. taxpayer funds, manpower). ‘Impact’ indicates the overall importance of satisfying the information need for the Council.

The table below outlines the author’s interpretation of these possible cost and impact levels, along with a rationale for each assumption:

Information Need Cost / Impact Rationale
Statistical Data (Community / Financial)

Low Cost

High Impact

The GCCC already has established measures set in place for collecting various forms of statistical data. The cost of maintaining these measures should be minimal. The impact of this information need is ‘high’ because the Council would not be able to operate successfully without access to such data
Environmental Research

High Cost

High Impact

Environmental research can prove costly and involves a large number of permanent and semi-permanent staff, including water management experts, ecological restoration experts, landcare facilitators and various planning coordinators
Market Research (Business)

Low Cost

High Impact

The GCCC already has close ties to prominent business leaders and captains of industry, largely negating the cost factor. The importance of satisfying this information need is paramount to the ongoing success of the GCCC’s corporate objectives
Stakeholder Input

Low Cost

Low Impact

Engaging with the community can be considered a low cost endeavour. The GCCC already has a number of community liaisons in place. As seen in Table 3 the GCCC does not rely on stakeholder input in its day-to-day operations
Roads & Transportation Research

High Cost

High Impact

Maintenance and planning in regards to roads and public transportation is generally an expensive proposition. In order to ensure the city has room to expand the research of this information need will require special focus
Future Forecasting

Medium Cost

Medium Impact

The GCCC has a number of programs in place dedicated to exploring future avenues and options for the city. The cost of maintaining of these programs will likely increase (in terms of finances and manpower) as the city continues to grow. It is difficult to determine the impact of this information need without resorting to pure speculation
Performance Reports

Medium Cost

High Impact

The generation of Performance Reports requires dedicated staff and planning. As an evaluatory measure, this information need is of the utmost importance to the GCCC
Educational Materials

Medium Cost
High Impact

The generation of educational materials and services requires permanent staff and ongoing planning. Without access to sufficient educational materials future generations may be unprepared for the challenges associated with governing the city
Promotional Materials

High Cost

High Impact

In order to properly advertise the city’s many attractions the GCCC needs to expend a great deal of resources to aid in the production of tourism campaigns. Historically, the GCCC has diverted a significant portion of its budget to such endeavours, as tourism can be considered the city’s primary industry

Table 4: Cost / impact assumptions for each perceived information need

  1. Council Information Management Strategy

Through the use of Henczel’s audit system, in which relevant data has been collected, analysed and evaluated, this report has concluded that the Gold Coast City Council has established a capable if occasionally limited information management system. As such, the Council Information Management Strategy proposed here focuses primarily on increasing the scope and potency of the Council’s current IM practices. To best facilitate this goal, the three core components of the proposed Information Management Strategy are outlined and addressed below.

4.1 Council-wide Assessment

The audit enacted in Section 3 of this report has only partially addressed the Gold Coast City Council’s information management practices. What’s more, the author, not employed by the Council in any capacity, does not have access to the inner workings of the Council’s information management systems. Audit results were produced solely from data made available to the general public.

In order to completely assess the capabilities of the Council’s IM systems, an internal Council audit must be initiated. This could prove a lengthy and expensive process, one that will require a reasonable allocation of funds from the Council’s yearly budget and the hiring of new, or repurposing of existing staff. However, the benefits of such an audit should be worth the expenditure of resources, as the Council will have a ‘yardstick’ from which to gauge the effectiveness of its current IM practices in addition to the feasibility of similar programs in the future.

A central facet of the audit should be a ‘Recommendations’ section, where the information management strategies most in need of improvement can be highlighted. As seen in the Capability Evaluation in Section 3.2, strategies associated with the defined information needs of stakeholder input in Council operations and the production of educational materials are in need of an analytical overhaul.

 

4.2 Revision of existing Information Management and Information Privacy Policy

The Council’s existing IM policy was written in 2010 and will soon be four years old. It is also very short and does not take into account several of the information needs defined in Section 3.1. It is the author’s suggestion that the Council revise or even rewrite the policy, with special emphasis on developing technologies that may be utilised to better satisfy these information needs. The revised policy could be used as a ‘blueprint’ for the internal Council IM audit proposed in Section 4.1.

4.3 Ongoing IM Monitoring & Evaluation 

With the completion of the internal Council IM audit and the revision of the Information Management and Information Privacy Policy, a system dedicated to periodical monitoring and evaluation of the Council’s IM strategies should be put into place. Such a system, if successful, could replace the need for any further internal information management audits in the future.

  1. Conclusion

This report has examined the structure and information management strategies of the Gold Coast City Council. An external information audit was enacted, defining the Council’s information needs (as perceived by the author) and identifying strengths and weaknesses relating to the strategies employed to meet these needs. In addition to this, an information management strategy was proposed. This strategy focused on recommendations for strengthening the Council’s existing information management practices.

It is the author’s conclusion that the current information management practices employed by the Council are at acceptable and capable levels. However, there are some possible improvements that should be addressed if the Council wishes to continue to meet the self-imposed standards of its Triple Bottom Line system.

  1. References

Gold Coast City Council. (2013). City of Gold Coast – council overview. Retrieved October 14, 2013 from http://www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/council/council-overview-203.html

Gold Coast City Council. (2013). City of Gold Coast – the Gold Coast. Retrieved October 14, 2013 from http://www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/thegoldcoast/default.html

Gold Coast City Council. (2010). Information Management and Information Privacy Policy. Retrieved from http://www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/library/documents/information-management-information-privacy-policy.pdf

Gold Coast City Council. (2009). Gold Coast City Council Corporate Plan 2009-2014. Retrieved from http://www.boldfuture.com.au/pdf/Corporate%20Plan/Corporate-Plan-2009-2014.pdf

Henczel, Susan. (2011). The information audit as a first step towards effective knowledge management. Information Outlook, 5(6), 48-62. doi: 10.1515/9783110955071.91

Slaper, T. & Hall, T. (2011). The triple bottom line: What is it and how does it work? Indiana Business Review, 86(1), 4-8. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au

Wikipedia. (2013). Gold Coast city. Retrieved October 16, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_Coast_City

Lightweight models & cost-effective scalability – Digg

For my final blog entry this semester I’m taking a look at another of O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 patterns – namely, the concept of lightweight models and cost-effective scalability – and how these relate to the Digg platform.

O’Reilly defines lightweight models as those that use “lightweight business and software development models to build products and businesses quickly and cost-effectively” (O’Reilly, 2007). Recent developer-friendly advancements in Web 2.0 technology have opened up exciting new avenues for ambitious developers who may not have had the chance to penetrate their chosen markets in the past. By using existing open-source technologies, rather than having to engage in the costly and time-consuming process of developing their own proprietary versions, emerging Web 2.0 developers are essentially able to greatly reduce start-up and operating costs – while also taking advantage of the marketing possibilities of Shapiro and Vairian’s (1998) ‘network effect’, which can result in a scenario in which various sites “can quickly overwhelm (their) competing sites” (Aggarwal & Yu, 2012, p. 142).

Cost-effective scalability can best be described as “starting small then being able to scale with demand” (Digital Rainforest, 2012, para. 1). ‘Scalability’, in this context, can refer to both technical levels and business models. In the technical sense, being able to build upon existing open-source technologies (and thus minimising start-up and operating costs) allows developers to scale the growth of their sites or applications alongside user increases. In the context of a business model, scalable and cost-effective marketing strategies can ensure that “the final product will hit the market in the shortest possible timeframe while at the same time allowing for future growth” (Digital Rainforest, 2012, para. 3).

digg

Digg – a “news aggregator with an editorially driven front page” (Wikipedia, 2014) – makes for a fine example of a Web 2.0 platform that started off as a lightweight model that employed cost-effective scalability techniques. Digg was established in November of 2004, employing a basic, uncluttered design that eschewed advertising. As the site grew in popularity, its creators turned to ad services like Google AdSense and MSN adCenter (now Bing! Ads) to initiate the monetisation process. In its infancy, Digg relied almost exclusively on user-sourced content, with a strong emphasis on building the platform through word-of-mouth and open source developer kits. The ‘lightweight model’ employed by Digg’s creators has proven most successful, with the platform now seeing over 3.8 million visits per month (Quantcast, 2014).

digg2

In 2012, Digg went through a major rehaul of its services, evolving from a popular social news website to its current editorially driven iteration. This somewhat drastic operative shift stands as a prime example of an organisation employing cost-effective scalability as its user base grows and matures. With a variety of market-driven innovations in controlled or widespread release or in early development – including proprietary RSS readers and various mobile iterations – Digg’s focus on scalability is sure to promote further growth as the platform continues to mature.

REFERENCES

Aggarwal, C.C & Yu, P.S. (2012). On the network effect in Web 2.0 applications. Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, 11(2), 142-151. doi: 10.1016/j.elerap.2011.11.001

Digital Rainforest. (2012). Lightweight models and cost-effective scalability. Retrieved from http://digitalrainforest.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/lightweight-models-and-cost-effective-scalability/

O’Reilly, T. (2007). Web 2.0 principles and best practices. Retrieved from http://issuu.com/levinyte/docs/web-2-0-principles-and-best-practices-oreilly-radar

Quantcast. (2014). Digg traffic and demographic statistics. Retrieved from https://www.quantcast.com/digg.com

Shapiro, C. & Vairian, H. (1998). Information rules: A strategic guide to the network economy [EBL version]. Retrieved from http://www.churchtown.us/Shared%20Documents/information-rules.pdf 

Leveraging the ‘long tail’ – Amazon

This week I’m taking a look at Tim O’Reilly’s seventh model of the web 2.0 design pattern – namely, the concept known as ‘leveraging the long tail’ – and examining how it relates to the monolithic success of Amazon.com.

The ‘long tail’,  as applied within a Web 2.0-friendly context, refers to a scenario where “products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, but only if the store or distribution channel is large enough” (Long Tail, 2014, para. 1). The term describes a process in which a “large number of unique items with relatively small quantities” (Wikipedia, 2014, para. 2) are marketed en masse – in conjunction with less popular items in greater quantities. In layman’s terms, collective interest in low-demand items can exceed the demand for all of the more popular items added together.

The advent of electronically distributed materials and media has allowed for several organisations to ‘leverage’ the long tail concept into a healthy profit margin. As consumers continue to develop increasingly nuanced Web 2.0 purchasing habits, production and distribution costs have diminished drastically. With global markets moving “past the constraints of physical shelf-space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare” (Anderson, 2004, para. 1). With such attractive profit margins on offer, the calculated manipulation of ‘long tail’ patterns has become standard procedure in the market operations of some of the world’s largest and most successful Web 2.0 entities.

amazon

Amazon, perhaps the world’s most expansive electronic retailer, is a prime example of an organisation that relies heavily on leveraging its ‘long tail’ assets. Storing its stock in centralised warehouses, the company does not have to expend much time and effort in managing its inventory (unlike traditional ‘brick and mortar’ operations). Essentially, the Amazon website acts as Amazon’s ‘showroom’. This creates an environment suitable for custom product advertisements aimed at shoppers who may have arrived at the site with a wholly different purchase in mind. Amazon is all too aware of this trend, using hooks such as the ‘customers who purchased this item also bought…’ and ‘Buy Now with One Click’ features to encourage an atmosphere of subtle yet constant upselling.

amazon1

Figure One: Amazon ‘long tail’ chart (John McKown, 2009)

It could be argued that Amazon uses the ‘long tail’ pattern to cynically maintain an unfair advantage over its competitors, seeing as the company offers literally hundreds of thousands of items that simply could not be made available in brick and mortar operations. Whether or not this is the case, a successful adherence to the pattern seems to have been part of Amazon’s long-term strategy from the very start. Chris Anderson (2004), creator of the model, formulated his initial theories after noticing that the grand majority of Amazon’s revenue was generated by what he would soon come to describe as ‘long tail’ items. Many of the core concepts and features long associated with Amazon – including algorithmic data management, advanced keyword optimisation and crowdsourced feedback, product ranking and reviews – are perfectly aligned with a system that encourages ‘long tail’ purchases at every conceivable and (mostly) non-intrusive opportunity.

 

REFERENCES

Anderson, C. (2004). The long tail. Retrieved from http://thelongtail.com/about.html

Long tail: Definition of long tail. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/long-tail.asp

Wikipedia. (2014). Long tail. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_tail

Dealing with Newcomers – Goodreads

This week I’ll be looking at how various online communities deal with recruiting and inducting new members. I’ll take a particular focus on Goodreads (2014), which claims to be a “social cataloguing” hub and “the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations”.

The vast majority of online communities advocate continual, well-advertised membership expansion. According to Velasquez et al (2014, p. 21), “online communities depend on the persistent contributions of heterogeneous users with diverse motivations and ways of participating”. It stands to reason that the larger such an entity is, the more regularly these contributions can be made – resulting in a healthier (and more profitable, if applicable) community environment.

However, systems based on promoting exponential (and often unfiltered) growth are not always an appropriate fit for more specific, industry-based online communities. An example of this can be seen across various fields of health and wellness research, with more and more researchers “turning to internet communities as recruitment sites” (Mendelson, 2007, p. 317).  In these scenarios a more critical and necessarily selective approach must be applied to the recruitment process.

The actual tools by which online communities recruit new members are generally designed for widespread community dissemination – that is, members are empowered to increase membership via invites, ‘friendship’ requests and the like. In this fashion, online communities grow in a more or less organic fashion.

But recruitment is only part of the induction process – if an online community is to succeed, a proven retention program (or member ‘upkeep’) is required. The easiest way to accomplish this is to institute methods by which individuals can foster a sense of ‘connectedness’ with the greater community. Cosley (2006) argues that online communities need member-controlled regulatory services in much the same way that cities and townships require municipal services. In order to ensure a new user becomes a fully operational and effective member of an online community, “new members must be welcomed and taught the community’s goals and norms” (Cosley, 2006, p. 136).

goodreads_f

Goodreads is a solid example of a platform that relies heavily on both community recruitment and user-generated content. Almost every single feature on the site has been created by the platform’s dedicated user base, from the millions of member reviews to the thousands of specific forums and annotations – not to mention the books uploaded by a growing number of independent authors. Users are actively encouraged to submit their own content by site moderators (generally through promotional messages) and their fellow members alike.

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 4.25.13 PM

Goodreads has succeeded primarily through user-generated ‘word of mouth’. Through various ‘find friends’ links prominently displayed on a member’s profile page, members are encouraged to invite friends from other social networks to use the service. Goodreads will send customisable auto-invites to selected friends from Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Twitter. Goodreads can also be configured to send updates (i.e. when a user finishes and rates or reviews a book) to a user’s linked Facebook account, a tactic which has seen the platform’s brand spike in popularity over the last few years.

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 4.26.54 PM

Now that Goodreads has been acquired by Amazon, it should be interesting to see what changes lie ahead – if any – for the platform’s highly successful customer-centric model.

 

REFERENCES:

Cosley, D. (2006). Helping hands: Design for member-maintained online communities. Doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota, United States.

Goodreads. (2014).  About Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/about/us

Mendelson, C. (2007). Recruiting participants for research from online communities. CIN: Computers, Infomatics, Nursing, 25(6), 317-323. doi: 0.1097/01.NCN.0000299653.13777.51

Velasquez, A., Wash, R., Lampe, C. & Bjornrud, T. (2014). Latent users in an online user-generated content community. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 23(1),  21-50. doi: 10.1007/s10606-013-9188-4

Software above the level of a single device – Steam

This week I’m taking a look at the concept of ‘software above the level of a single device’. Today’s global electronics market is saturated with all manner of devices, many locked in direct competition with each other. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s the home PC was king. Cell phones were relatively useless analog ‘bricks’ and tablets were an expensive and under-utilised luxury, used sparingly in certain education and medicine-based industries. In 2014, however, the average tech-savvy Westerner has easy access to all manner of powerful devices that cater to an increasingly broad spectrum. Easy access to blisteringly fast broadband Internet has brought about a situation where multi-platform software has become not only commonplace but a widely accepted information design practice. After all, “every web application is software above the level of a single device” (O’Reilly, 2007, para. 5).

The days of proprietary, device-specific programs and applications are fast drawing to a close. Many Apple-specific products have been available on PC for some time now (and vice-versa). The Android platform and Apple’s native iTunes are now almost interchangeable, as developers rush to capitalise on emerging mobile markets by quite literally ‘covering all their bases’. Whereas instantly-recognizable mascots like Sonic and Mario once duked it out in the ‘console wars’ of last century, they now feature regularly in each other’s flagship titles. Put simply, the exclusionary ways of the last few decades have become hideously outdated – in this brave new world, collaboration – and accessibility – are the keys to success.

As an example of a popular multi-platform application I’ve chosen to investigate Steam, a “digital distribution, digital rights management, multiplayer and communications platform” (Steam, 2014, para. 1) developed by the US-based software giant Valve. Steam distributes games created by both independent and big-studio developers. Since it’s PC-only inception in 2003, the Steam platform has branched out to accommodate competing operating systems like Mac OS X, Linux and (via Android) the increasingly lucrative mobile market. This represented an incredible risk for the company – Linux and OS X are generally considered poor gaming platforms in comparison to the long-dominating PC – but this gamble has paid off quite handsomely, with Steam now recognised one of the world’s most well-known and respected digital distribution brands, responsible for an estimated “75% of purchased games downloaded for the PC” (Steam, 2014, para. 3).

steam

While Valve may not have originally designed the Steam platform to share data across multiple devices, servers and networks, the developer is certainly embracing the multi-platform model now. In an unprecedented move, Valve has recently created various different versions of Steam with “altered functionality” (Steam, 2014, para 2) to further extend their already considerably healthy customer base. Some of these altered versions have been designed with educational applications in mind. Valve is also developing a proprietary OS to be used with their upcoming third-party designed ‘Steam Boxes’, in preparation for their first true foray into the lucrative home gaming console market. This admittedly risky move is a perfect example of how certain Web 2.0 applications can be extended to devices. It’s likely that Valve will attempt to leverage these devices as data and rich media sources, in order to compete with current console juggernauts Sony and Microsoft.

steam2

Whether or not Valve can continue to Steam(roll) their competitors with their innovative focus on multi-platform software remains to be seen. Personally, I think Valve is working from a highly detailed game plan and is likely to go from strength to strength. When it comes to developing software that rises above the level of a single device, Valve is at the forefront of an increasingly large pack. Banking on innovation and accessibility should ensure they remain in the lead for some time to come.

 

REFERENCES:

O’Reilly, T. (2007). Software above the level of a single device. Retrieved from http://radar.oreilly.com/2007/11/software-above-the-level-of-a.html

Steam (software). 2014. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_(software)

 

Regulating Behaviour in Online Communities – Facebook Insights

For my inaugural INN347 blog post I decided to take a look at the regulation of user behaviours within online communities. In this context, an ‘online community’ can be defined as any “social space wherein relationships and ties are formed among the members and a common set of values and norms are established and shared” (Nambisan & Watt, 2011, p. 891). Examples of such an entity can be found in social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, link aggregating ‘bulletin boards’ like Reddit and 4chan and various message boards and discussion forums.

Dawson (2006, p. 153) argues that a “sense of community develops when people share a common environment or interest.” It the duty of the online community’s administrators and moderators to ensure said community continues to develop in a positive manner. Particular importance lies in “setting clear community guidelines around what’s tolerated” and “being as transparent as you can be within corporate guidelines” (Goodstein, 2009, para. 6). In 2014, the average ‘netizen’ is savvy enough to expect some manner of content regulation (if only to filter out pornographic, spam-related or otherwise offensive materials) while also demanding what amounts to total transparency from the entity in which they are entrusting their private information.

Efficient regulators understand that the most prominent and / or active users in an online community do not always represent its best interests. Goodstein contends that “a decision that angers the vocal ‘few’ might be good for the silent ‘many'” (Goodstein, 2009, para. 3). It is important not to alienate users if at all possible, however, as many online communities “constitute a social space wherein relationships and ties are formed among the members” (Nambisan & Watt, 2011, p. 891). The ties that bind such communities also empower them – if enough users become dissatisfied with the platform, a ‘mass migration’ can potentially rendered it obsolete (see Friendster and MySpace). A proven method to alleviate this risk involves “empowering your passionate users/influencers with a sense of ownership/leading roles” (Goodstein, 2009, para. 6), a strategy that has proven highly successful for online communities such as Cracked.com (which relies at least partially on user-generated content) and the Huffington Post (with it’s popular rank-based comment system).

Facebook’s Insights platform perfectly encapsulates this new era of ‘user empowerment’. Insights allows users to see the metrics and analytics of their Facebook Page (a promotional page – i.e. sponsored – not a personal profile) or app.

insight1

Community managers can easily track how, why and where their content is spreading. Those with access to the platform can discern between self-generated content (i.e. content generated from their own Facebook posts) concerning their product or brand and relevant content posted by the greater Facebook community.

insights2

In giving dedicated and web-savvy users such control over their own analytical data – an entirely cost-free process – Facebook’s developers are essentially paving the way for a wholly self-regulating community. It’s an exercise that’s sure to pay off – after all, a happy and engaged user is much more likely to splash out on all those completely optional advertising and promotional services…

 

REFERENCES

Dawson, S. (2006). A study of the relationship between student communication interaction and sense of community. The Internet and Higher Education, 9, 153–162. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2006.06.007

Goodstein, A. (2009). Good ideas for managing online communities. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/docview/189709480

Nambisan, P. & Watt, J.H. (2011). Managing customer experiences in online product communities. Journal of Business Research, 64(8), 889-895. doi: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2010.09.006