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The news here for most people is probably that the Museum of Modern Art has launched a free iPhone app, giving users access to it’s huge collection of modern and contemporary art and a slew of other tools. After all, that’s the headline of the organization’s press release and it is big news, especially considering all that it allows users to do. Smart.

But what I find awesome about it is how it encourages user-generated content, and then turns around and rewards the user for their efforts with something tangible, useful and that they will probably find quite intriguing.  Here is the excerpt from the release that I found most exciting:

As a useful companion for visits to the Museum, the MoMA App offers users a chance to snap photos inside the Museum and send them as postcards

I think that’s pretty neat. I do wonder though if there were any internal discussions about that feature potentially stealing revenue from the gift shop where I’m sure they actually *sell* postcards. But it’s good to see that it didn’t hinder this cool feature if it did surface as an issue. We are all using our mobile devices as content generating machines. It’s good to see someone leverage that in a way that’s helpful.

Good job Museum of Modern Art.

Here’s the complete release:

MoMA Launches Free iPhone App on App Store

Access The Museum’s Renowned Collection, Exhibitions, Events, and More Through iPhone and iPod touch

NEW YORK, Aug. 12 /PRNewswire/ — The Museum of Modern Art today announces that the MoMA App is now available on the App Store. The new application for the iPhone and iPod touch provides users with instant access to 32,000 works of art in the Museum’s vast collection of modern and contemporary art; a dictionary of art terms and a database of artist bios; calendar information for exhibitions, film screenings, and events; and a variety of audio tours, including special tours for children, teens, and the visually impaired. As a useful companion for visits to the Museum, the MoMA App offers users a chance to snap photos inside the Museum and send them as postcards, and allows visitors to select tracks from their own music libraries to listen to while touring the Museum. The application’s highly engaging visual interface was designed in-house, and when used with the new iPhone 4G and its high resolution and retina display, artworks can be viewed in the highest possible quality. The MoMA App is available as a free download from the App Store, and follows the spring 2010 release of the Museum’s first e-book app Vincent van Gogh: The Starry Night.

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I was one of three guests on WRAL’s new talk show, “On the Record” which aired on the CBS affiliate in Raleigh this week.

The topic: The Decline of Civility. I was asked about some of the comments posted on news stories and talked a bit about the dynamics of anonymous posting.
It’s a 30-minute show, longer than what most of us like to watch online, but it’s an interesting conversation and I wanted to share it with you here on my blog.

Oh, and don’t think for one minute that the members of the community I manage didn’t see it.  So far there have been two blogs posted about it.  One was all about how nervous I looked, and a comment in the second blog post indicated that I am living in a fantasy believing that things will get better without me putting forth any effort.  I’m going to have to let that one go for now….

At any rate, here’s the link to the video:

On the Record: The Decline of Civility

Let me know what you think, okay?

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It’s time to get your holiday ideas in gear.
Make a list of 10 things you can implement during the holiday season and mobilize the efforts of your online community.
Remember, people love to talk about themselves and show off their handy work.
Ask them to upload pictures of the Thanksgiving Turkey. Start a contest for the most creative Christmas tree.
Oh, speaking of Christmas trees, have you ever seen one made of Mountain Dew cans? A member of my online community uploaded this image gallery today.

So, get your holiday ideas in gear. I’ll be back with my 10 ideas in my next post.

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obamaThis is a question I don’t want to ponder, and unfortunately I believe I know the answer. I wish I didn’t but I do. I’ve seen it in full effect since the election of Sen. Barack Obama two days ago and it is truly disheartening.

While we as a county have certainly opted for change and the racial lines seem to be blurring, this change is clearly an atrocity to some who will likely use the web and the “cloak of anonymity” I’ve mentioned many times before, to share their anger and spread their hate.

Among some of the content I’ve dealt with today were comments about black criminals getting off easy now because they will have backing “straight from the top,” watermelon seeds being planted at the White House, appointing “Reverend Ike” as Secretary of the Treasury, and Richard Pryor, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin to other positions in his Cabinet. Not to mention all of the other stereotypical madness that is so easy to deliver via keyboard.

Am I writing this blog while emotional? Yes, and that could be good or bad. You decide. But as the Managing Editor of User-Generated Content at WRAL.com and GOLO.com, it is my job to develop guidelines for how we manage UGC and I deal with a great deal of it. So this is affecting my job. It’s affecting something I believe in.

So yes, I’m emotional but this is my blog and this is where I chose to vent today. So thank you for hearing me out.

Now, I will go home, reapply my thick skin before bed and come in tomorrow to live and work another day. There is no alternative, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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In an effort to illustrate just how daunting the job of an online community manager can be, I’ve started sharing selected snippets of some of the e-mails I receive from members, with the members who send them via my editor’s blog.

There seems to be a real interest and it shows the community just how petty some of their peers can be. Many openly express in the comments areas of my posts that they would never want to do my job. Others have indicated that they would “pray for me and my inbox.”

If you’re up for a good laugh, or cry…read through some of these. Have a bottle of aspirin nearby.

  1. “Please tell me why when I made a decent comment concerning a very real thing …about putting a hex on something that it gets deleted? I see that this person I referanced this to also had his comment deleted? I did not call names, was not rude.”
  2. You accept constant trash, and *I* get a nasty gram. Please……..
  3. Angela – we need the ability to block people off group blogs.
  4. “The sports section is overrun by crazy people and everytime UNC is mentioned all the fools come out and no one can talk about nothing!!”
  5. Dang it Angela….. are you gonna get rid of this jerk or not??????
  6. Ok, Angela here we go again please remove the current cowboy blog this a violation.
  7. Their are currently 2 blogs with half naked men and lewd suggestive comments being made if there is truly NOT a double standard at ____ these must be flagged NOW and warnings issued. Please follow terms and conditions as set out by ____ or not at all. Allow all viewing of the human body or none at all, both genders.
  8. I put a comment on the story about the son killing the father in Lee County- there has been some more about this story in the Sanford Herald and the son is being futher investiaged by Sanford Police about another killing that took place a couple of years ago. Please take my comment off.
  9. I havent disobeyed ANY of the rules so why cant I post anymore?
  10. I live in Florida and come to the ____ website every day because I am from NC and have family–children, mother, etc. in NC. I used to post comments quite frequently. Since you changed to this ____ nightmare it is so cumbersome it is a huge waste of my time. I can’t figure out how to just plain leave a comment on a story. Please, not all of us want to BLOG or whatever. It is not our life work. Sometimes we just want to make a simple comment.
  11. “I think your word filter really sucks. I was trying to post a response to the story of the Eagle and I have a pet bird. She is a Cockatiel and as since I used that word twice, the filter would not let the post go through.
    Now please tell me what is so offensive about the word “Cockatiel” when it is describing a small Parrot from Australia. I ran a dictionary check on the word “cock” and it was listed 10 times and neither definition was in the least bit offensive.
    But I suppose I’ll just get the regular computer response back.”
  12. This morning I was trying to use the word cracker as in I ate crackers this morning and it was blocked. Why? Trying to block this for racial reason???
  13. I frequently go to your sites and look at feed back ref to your news stories. I am sick of this lady. Her abuse of language, non factual statements are discusting. Please take her completely down. I know that you have fixed it where she can’t do it from the story site but she is still on your link. Here is her link.I feel sorry for both familes and I feel that her ranting and raving is not helping the healing of the familes and the communities.
  14. I guess I will have to contact ABC 11 and ask them if they would like to investigate the discrimination of the ____ team in regards to allowing negative comments about gay people but not african american people.
  15. “I didnt realize my actual name was going to show up on a post I had made, it was certainly not a bad post but I’d rather not have my name shown up. I changed my screename however someone responded with my realhame and I was just wondering if you could please edit the thread and remove my full name. Really appreciated it.”

Does your inbox look anything like this? Do tell!

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If there’s one thing members of your online community want from you, it’s feedback. Positive feedback, or not-so positive feedback, they want to hear from you.

As in most group settings, the squeaky wheels tend to get most of the attention, but if this is where you are focusing your efforts, it’s time to stop. Yes, you have to deal with troublemakers to keep the community in tip-top shape, but you can’t neglect your top posters, continuous content creators and keepers of the community.

If it sounds like a huge task, that’s because it is. It’s an important one too and should be done on a daily basis. It isn’t something you have to spend hours doing, but it’s wise to carve out at least 30 minutes of your day to recognize the members who keep the community afloat, and spend a good portion of their time on your site.

So how can you do this effectively and efficiently? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Comment on blogs or forums and be sure to compliment the author publicly. (“This is a great conversation piece. Good topic.”)
  2. Make a helpful suggestion. This indicates that you value their content. (“Great post. You might want to add a link to your last blog since it’s related.”)
  3. Make a direct request. (Loved the pictures from your garden. When can we expect to see more?”)
  4. Ask a question about their content. (That recipe looks awesome, was it passed down to you?”)
  5. Suggest a blog topic. (I see you’re passionate about drunk driving, you should consider writing a blog.”)
  6. Ask for their opinion based on what you know about them. ( “I’m heading out your way this weekend, any good barbecue spots in Sanford?”)
  7. Encourage communication with other community members. (“Johnny23 is looking for tax advice, aren’t you an accountant? Maybe you can help”)
  8. Make a promise, and keep it. (If you do decide to take more pictures let me know and I’ll highlight them on the home page.”)
  9. Tell them you miss them. (“Haven’t seen you in a while, I hope everything is okay. We miss your humor.”)
  10. Send a personal e-mail.. (Hey, you were one of our top posters last week. Just want you to know how much I appreciate your time. Keep it up!”)

Easy enough? Why not get started today? Pick a number between 10 and 20 and decide to issue that many or more compliments to your users on a daily basis. It will show them you care and that you value their time. It will pay off as they become more loyal and you’ll ultimately see the fruits of your labor.
Do you have any helpful hints on connecting with users? Feel free to share.

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That is the question I was asked by my boss today.

“I’d love to,” I say enthusiastically and practically giddy. “Will they understand me?”

“If not, we’ll get an interpreter.”

“Sold.”

So, I will be speaking to a group of bloggers from Egypt next week, thanks to a relationship my boss has with the UNC School of Journalism. He once worked there and the dean reached out to him for this particular endeavor.

The point? I’m blogging about this because it underscores my passion for what I do. I thoroughly enjoy my line of work and talking about it excites me. I’m able to get others excited about social media and there are many bloggers who do the same for me on a daily basis. If you’re reading this, you’re likely one of them. Thank you.

Are the ups and downs of managing user-generated content, managing online communities and dealing with the unknown a force to be reckoned with. Absolutely. Just read my recent post about community-management related stress. (Hmmm, did I just coin a new acronym? CMRS disorder?)

But these ups and downs also build character I’m learning. And those of us doing this today will be a great help to those of us doing it tomorrow.

So, Egyptian bloggers prepare for an earful.

Let’s be honest.

Many online communities are filled with people who are not who they claim to be. Charlatans, masters of disguise, self-proclaimed trolls and would-be stalkers can hide behind a cloak of anonymity, never to be revealed.

But on the flip side, there are also people who hide nothing. They are comfortable in their skin offline and online. They’re honest, readily share their opinions, enjoy a good debate and make friends along the way. In other words, they’re genuine. They’re real.

Having managed the online community, GOLO since its inception, I have come to know a whole lot of people. They have connected with me as I have with them, eventhough I have no idea “who” they really are.

One member showed up at the station unannounced last December and brought me three Christmas CD’s. Another sent me a box of vegetables from her garden a few months back. I’ve also received cards and lunch invitations and even access to coveted company perks, none of which I’ve accepted, of course. I also get a slew of hate mail, but that’s par for the course.

Most recently, I received a card in the mail adorned with an image of the confederate flag. I heard about it before it ever reached my office. Our in-house mail deliverer informed me last week that he’d seen a piece of mail addressed to me with the name “Old Rebel” on it and that I should be careful.

The woman who brought it to my office gave me an equally concerned look when she handed it to me, and I in turn sat it down on my desk thinking “Not today.”

When I finally decided to open it, fearing the worst, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a thank-you card. The sender had recently received a mousepad from me in the mail, and he wanted to acknowledge it.

I’d recently asked ten users for their home address so I could reward them for being “top posters” on the site and he was one of them.

He simply wanted to say “thank you.”

So what’s the lesson here? The lesson is that I too am learning things about people and that even I can judge their intentions base on my preconceived notions.

The confederate flag is a symbol of the south to him. And I know from his posts and image galleries that he loves the area and will likely live here until he draws his final breath.

As a black woman from the north, it means and has always meant something different to me.

But I can’t help but understand that he was sharing who he really is, and meant me no harm. It’s quite the opposite. His sincerity was apparent.

So what did I do? I went directly to his profile page, posted a hearty thank-you of my own, and told him that he had made my day.

Am I now a fan of this flag? No. But I just may reevaluate its significance to some and do a little research of my own.

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While catching up on my twitter reading tonight, I came across this comment from Patrick Thornton aka jiconoclast:

I want to talk about comments some more. It seems to be that building community has to start from the beginning.

I have to disagree with that. Now, I’m the first person to rag on newspapers for moving at a snails pace, requiring that even the most minor decisions are made by committee and for blatantly ignoring the obvious for years through institutionalized denial and arrogance.

But, I’m not sure that many news organizations were aware of, or expected the kind of drama that comments connected to news stories would bring. Yes, it’s ugly and it will only get worse before it gets better. But it can be done. I know this for a fact.
We moderate comments on news stories at WRAL.com and as the Managing Editor of User-Generated Content, I am largely responsible for the policies that come along with it. Comments weren’t always moderated, but we took control of the content associated with our brand, made the change, and we’re still going strong. Do we get complaints? Yes, but not nearly as many as you would think and most importantly, people also know that they can come to us and engage in civil conversations about the issues that affect them and the community they live in.

So, is it too late? No! I think all news organizations should moderate comments, and the sooner the better. Would it have been ideal to start from the beginning? Possibly. But, you may even score points for changing the situation for the better.

Community managers walk a fine line when it comes to dealing with problem users, and that fine line can often feel like a tightrope.

On one hand, you want to grow the community, and on the other hand, you have to uphold your standards for the community so that others will find it attractive and want to spend time there.

During GOLO’s first year, I was very accomodating. I rarely marked content as abuse and gave second and third chances. It was only the most egregious offenders whom I banned outright and I sometimes worried that if I was too heavy handed, everyone would leave.

Well, what a difference a year makes. Experience is undoubtedly the best teacher and I am now officially over that fear. If you’re still holding on to it, I challenge you to let it go. It’s really quite liberating.

If you’re having problems laying down the gauntlet in certain situations and keeping people in line when it absolutely needs to be done, try these tactics first:

  • Reach out to the member via e-mail and inform them of the offense. Make sure your tone is pretty neutral, and let them know you will give them a pass this once.
  • If it’s a well-known member who contributes often, remind them how much you value their participation and gently let them know that you were a bit miffed at their recent post, image or other content in question.

If they challenge you in any way, engage. This is often the time when a breakthrough may occur and it also gives you an opportunity to share information about guidelines and why you have them. It starts a dialog that could really turn into a positive. But be careful about how long you let it go on. If they are questioning you just for the sake of ruffling your feathers, shut it down.

Now, if those don’t work or if you come across content that is completely unacceptable and that you could possibly be held accountable for, you have no choice. Those are the times you cannot think twice and you have to act. You can’t get caught up in the fact that this user was your top poster last month or that they are the leader of the most popular clique in the community.

If you do, you will lose control. Some will argue that the goal of the community manager is not to control. I agree to some extent. You do not want to control a community, you want to nurture it.

But keep in mind that boundaries have to be set, and know that certain members will push you until you literally fall off the cliff.

So before you fall off of that cliff, do something. Engage your community, but set the standards and make sure they are respected and upheld. Will you sometimes fall short? Yes. Absolutely yes.

But if you have to choose between falling short from time to time, and falling off a cliff after walking on a tightrope for weeks or even months…I’m pretty sure you’d choose the former.

You’ll feel it in your gut and your heart may even skip a beat.

I know this sounds dramatic but it’s true, and if you manage an online community you know exactly what I’m talking about. .

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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