Thursday, June 30, 2011

How to Save My Space (Part Two)

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

In Part One, I discussed creating a trustworthy social networking site, and instituting a sign up fee to create revenue and cut down on spam. If these seem like ideas that are bad, you can either go read why I feel they’ll work, or you can just read today’s suggestions, which you’ll probably think bad too.

This is where the next knee-jerk reaction is going to come, but please have an open mind.

Delete accounts that are not active. *smiling again because I know that seems anti-internet to some of you*

One of the big issues with a social networking site, an email site, a blog site, and any number of sites made up of user content is that there reaches a threshold of how much storage space the sites can afford to maintain. The way that My Space has always dealt with this is that if you delete your account, everything associated to your account goes away, including comments on other people’s accounts. While this saddens the archivist in me, it makes sense from the standpoint that you’re not saving a ton of messages and comments that were generated by spam accounts.

The thing is that there are many accounts out there that people set up thinking they would join this My Space craze, and then they just didn’t do anything with it. Also, there was a spam account that I had on my top friends lists (because I thought it was funny to have a spam account in my top friends) that just sat there for over a year before it finally disappeared. There are accounts that were very active, but then for one reason or another became less active. This can be because the owner of the account just doesn’t sign in often or at all. This can be because the owner of the account has sadly passed on, and the family has either not shut down the account or can’t shut down the account. And let me say that having lost a couple of online friends, I wish for their accounts to always be there as a testament to who they were, but from a perspective of maintaining web space I understand the unfortunate need to sometimes get rid of unused accounts.

So how do you do this? You do this with a point system that tracks activity, and auto-deletes accounts that show no activity for a long while. The key to this is to make it nearly impossible for anyone to lose their account unless they are literally not using the account at all.

I’m going to explain it, but let me say two things. The first is that it will be a little complicated and you might space out a little. The second is that this is the best way I have to execute this. I don’t know if it’s the best way.

The basic explanation is that you receive points when you sign in and when you create content and activity, and you lose points when you don’t sign in. Three things. The first is that you make it so that you are rewarded more for using the site, and only penalized when you don’t use the site for long periods of time. Second is that you have to have a way to allow people to avoid penalties if they know in advance that they won’t be using the site for a while. The third is that you only give people points for their activity. You don’t give people points for others commenting them or anything like that. This avoids people bugging you all the time to comment on their stuff. We’ll get to all of this, so please bear with me.

First let me deal with how you lose points, so that I can best explain how you won’t lose your account unless you never sign in. If you don’t sign in for a day you lose 100 points. If you don’t sign in for a week you lose an additional 200 points. This means that if you don’t sign in for a week, you’ll have lost a total of 900 points. If you don’t sign in for four weeks you lose an additional 400 points. This means that if you don’t sign in for four weeks you’ll have lost a total of 4,000 points. Note that if you sign in once a week, you would only lose 2,400 points, so you’re penalized more heavily for longer stretches of time.

The first thing you do is you start everyone out at 24,000 points. This is given automatically to the people who already have accounts (who I will remind you that you do not want to betray) and is also given to new accounts when they pay the $100 fee. This means that under the new rules, you will not lose your account for six months, which should be a reasonable enough timeframe to let everyone know what is going on. Face it. If you can’t be bothered to sign in to an account a few times over the course of six months, you probably don’t need that account.

Next, you give people 100 points when they sign in each day. This is only once a day, so you get no more for signing in 100 times a day than once a day. Though I will be discussing ways of getting smaller amounts of points, and if you wanted to allow people to earn an additional 10 points for additional sign ins, though at a maximum of 40 points a day for it, that might be ok.

Note that if you signed in only once a week, you would eventually lose your account anyway, and we don’t want that, because we don’t want to penalize people who just happen to use their accounts less. To deal with this and be fair to everyone you would give people additional 600 points if they signed in at least once during a given week. You would give people an additional 1000 points if they signed in at least once in a given month. This way the only accounts that will ever go away are accounts that are very heavily neglected. This means that if you sign in every day in the month of May you would gain 4,700 points. If you signed in once in the month of May on the last day, you would lose 4,100 points, but you would gain 1,600.

Finally, there would be an option for people who go below 4,000 points to call My Space and get “free” points to maintain their account. I believe that with the right business model, you could actually have a call center that dealt with specific problems. One such problem would be to make sure that people aren’t losing points when they shouldn’t, and that they won’t lose their account just because they don’t check in as much. Again, the point system on it’s surface is just a way to literally phase out unused accounts, not to penalize people for not using their account as much as others. Make that clear. Remember. Trust.

Additional points would be gained in many ways. Once a day you could gain 20 points for posting a blog. Once a day you could gain 20 points for posting a picture. Once a day you could gain 20 points for listening to or editing a playlist you have on the site. I’m sure there are other things you could do, but you would have to make sure that people would never gain lots of points for potentially spamming. And never for people commenting on their blogs, pictures and so forth, so that you don’t have people who are playing the point game bugging you 24/7 to comment their shit.

You could give people small amounts of points for things that could be potentially spamming. For instance you could gain 1 point for commenting on pictures or blogs, but never more than 5 points a day. You could gain 1 point for posting in a Group or Forum, but never more than 5 points a day.

Finally, you could give people 10 points for status updates, but never more than 40 points a day. And like I said above maybe they could get an additional 10 points for each sign in beyond the first at a maximum of 40 points a day.

The point is to give people points for signing in and for activity, but to limit the amount of points so that the activity isn’t largely false activity. I would even suggest that you make a policy that literally caps the number of points you can gain in a given period of time, so that if there is ever a glitch, you can go back and deal with it. Why? Well, because I would suggest that there be a reason to gain points beyond just not losing your account, and so you wouldn’t want someone riding a glitch and falsely gaining points. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Another way to create activity for points would be to have My Space sanctioned contests, like bands submit one song each and people vote on it. Each account could vote once, and gain points for that vote. The winner of the contest gets so many points for their band’s page. People submit one blog post each and people vote on it, each account can vote once and gain points for that vote. The winner of that contest gets so many points for their page. The point here would be to encourage people to submit quality content, and encourage people to experience that content.

As I have it mapped out above, people could gain about 250 points a day, plus a potential extra 3,400 each month if they signed in at least once a week. So in a 30-day month, each account could gain over 10,000 points, which would be around three months that they don’t have to worry about losing their service. My next suggestion is that once people have created a buffer zone of a little over a year that they could not sign in and not lose their account, say 50,000 points, that they could spend points above the 50,000 on offers made by trustworthy advertisers. This could create another stream of revenue if you allowed people to buy 24,000 points for $100. The thing here would be to work with advertisers to make offers that would literally benefit people, and benefit people well, for paying that kind of money. I don’t have examples, but again, as a means of being a trustworthy site, you don’t want to fuck people over, because $100 is a lot of money, and signing in every day for months at a time is a lot of time investment. You would have to make it seriously a great deal for people to spend some of their points. This is why I discussed the idea above of covering for glitches that give people more points than they should have, and why I suggested having a call center to deal with unfairly lost points.

A word of caution, because I’m sure some of you can already see the Farmville Farm Cash model in the point system. Be sure to be somewhat generous with the points if it promotes activity and community on the site, but be very careful not to ever give out points for unverified promotions, and be ruthless about spam that offers points. Suspend accounts that offer points in spam posts and so forth, and require the owner of the account to contact you in the case of a hacked or phished account.

The reason I suggest the point system is meant to be twofold. The first is to be able to delete old accounts that are not used. The second is to create an active community. If the second can’t be achieved without causing trouble, I would suggest just regularly looking for accounts that haven’t had a log in for six months, and contacting the account owner to see if they still wish to keep the account. If there is no response in a reasonable amount of time then delete it.

The other reason for the point system though is that there are Groups and Forums on My Space that are never used, and also take up storage space. By assigning a point system to those as well, you could eliminate a lot of the well-intentioned, but poorly executed, groups out there. I would suggest the same point loss system, but allow the Groups and forums to gain 100 points for each post made to the Group each day up to 500 points. In a month’s time a group could gain multiple months of life, so that an active Group would never go away. Though I would cap a Groups’ point totals at something like 50,000 points so that if it suddenly stops being active it’ll have a chance of being phased out after a year or so depending on how inactive it actually is.

So that’s my thought on saving My Space. A lot of it has to do with creating revenue without pissing off the current account holders. A lot of it has to do with creating a semi game state for account holders that would promote an active community. Some of it has to do with thinning out the amount of content that remains stored on the servers in the interest of active content. And it’s all rooted in an idea of re-branding My Space as a social networking site that can be trusted (and really can be trusted), and is beneficial to its account holders rather than trying to fuck them over at every turn just to bring in some advertising dollars.

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