Because I have been involved intimately for more than seven years as the curator of the Philadelphia readers' network, I have been called upon at various stages of the publication's growth to comment, interact, and provide feedback. Writers and editors paid attention and listened to the community.
The Real Time Live events were some of the most engaging conferences I have ever attended to this day. Alan Webber and Polly LaBarre made content experiential by asking thought provoking questions in high energy conversations where the audience was on stage with the speakers and the speakers where within reach. Now many conferences do that - they were the first.
They were also the first to engage their fans and build a network on their site people could join to meet like-minded individuals around the world, post messages to groups local and global, and continue making the pages of the magazine come to life locally. Jeremiah Owyang published an analysis of their latest effort to integrate the readers with the magazine further today. He writes:
[...] Fast Company is attempting to involve readers and the market to be involved in creating content. [...]
[...] Once the initial buzz wears off, we’ll have to see who will remain leading the and joining in the conversations. [...]
I'm confused. Did Owyang not know about Company of Friends (CoF)? It has been around long enough - 10+ years. We have been co-creating content with the magazine for years, albeit much less in recent times. The exchange with the editorial staff was real and the community feel was authentic. We had many a road show with the magazine staff led by Heath Row, and we had a groundbreaking Community @ Work Summit with 101 participants from all over the world in Denver in August 2000.
My invitation to join the expert bloggers roster one year ago was an extension of that mindset and intent and one more demonstration that the company has always been in beta. Even when they had to retrench and re-imagine the magazine.
As for the buzz wearing off, things change. Many of the professionals who started local CoF groups or got involved were inspired to leap off to even larger projects. I can think of Chris Heuer for one, there are many others I'm sure.
(1) the site is too crowded, I don't know where to look first;
(2) what's the goal of having a portal? Here's mine, if you can see it;
(3) think benefit to the user first; it would have been nice to have been asked to participate at the experience design stage. Edward Sussman introduced the site from the publisher's point of view.
From where I sit, this is another example of how Fast Company has always led - and that is good to me as a reader and as a community member. I agree with Owyang and his conclusions: they’ll need to act on user and community recommendations as well as not bury their own content too deeply. That is one of the main reasons why I read and am engaged with this publication instead of another.
I've learned a lot from Fast Company, and I would like to think that they in turn have learned a lot from their community. I am hoping that many of the site features that mimic other networks like LinkedIn and Facebook go away or are evolved through community use to become ownable and unique to the Fast Company leadership brand.
I admit that I did not play with the beta too much. I posted an event the other day as the coordinator had not seen the invitation to the beta. And I provided my initial reaction to Lynne Johnson with whom I had an in depth conversation about the site and the future of the magazine a few months back. Fast Company has been new media in beta since 1995.
[As a side note, I am not sure how long they have been using that tagline "where ideas and people meet." Mine, "connecting ideas and people," has been public since August 2006. Another case of minds thinking alike.]