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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

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host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

Tips for Encouraging User-Generated Content on My Site?

I've spent a little time developing a site ( http://sportsity.com ) to let people easily find local parks and other places to engage in sports and other activities. I think the idea is useful, the interface is pretty simple and intuitive, but the entire concept rests on users contributing content--adding information about their favorite local venues for running, biking, pick-up basketball, etc.

I'm wondering if anyone has any tips on fostering that kind of content contribution from users, without building a whole community infrastructure (forums, etc.) I just want people to feel like it's fun and easy to contribute information. If you have any feedback about the site (and specifically what might prevent or encourage user contributions), I'd appreciate it greatly.

Jeremy Liles Send private email
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
> the interface is pretty simple and intuitive

I visited the site and saw a map, an empty sidebar, and some Google ads. There is nothing telling me what it is or how to use it. You should at least add a tag line and a sample.
Nick Hebb Send private email
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
From what I have learnt, you're better off zeroing in on a particular niche and concentrating on that first.  For instance, you might decide that skate parks is a good one, because it's a younger audience and more savvy.  Or perhaps dog-exercise areas in the larger cities.  You would then build up a lot of the information yourself in that niche and just push it as much as you can.  Optimise in Google for that particular niche, and try and build traffic.  Once you have got that working well for one area, you could try moving into related areas.

If you get good PR for one page in your niche, it will help to build the profile of your site overall.

It's the reason why bands don't hire out stadiums to play their first gig.  Nobody will turn up, and if they do, they will all sit miles from each other, and there will be no 'feel'.  Same with the site - if you spread all the contributions far and wide, then each poster will feel like a lone voice in the wilderness.

For what it is worth, tripadvisor.com went in and manually built up a database of information about each of the places in it's index.  It went through and edited and entered all the available information about each place as they went.  It took years, but when users turned up to a page on, say, New York City, there was already plenty of information, so they were more likely to add to that information.  I don't think anyone likes being the first.

Just my two cents, my own efforts in the area haven't been a roaring success (yet)
Bruce Chapman Send private email
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I quickly looked at your website and I have no idea how I would contribute content. At best it looks like I'd have to login...

It's really not intuitive. Plus you've got to make me want to contribute content. The interface is simple but I have no idea what the website is about either. There's no benefits, nothing calling me to perform any action either.

Plus I'd recommend removing the ads at first, at least until you have a decent user base. Otherwise it makes it look pretty spammy. It makes it look like you're just trying to make a buck off people entering all your data.

And you might want to consider seeding the data. Hire some people to load up the data for a few major cities with high density populations. It's the chicken and the egg problem, no one wants to contribute until there's people contributing. So you need to start it. Nothings free ;)
Stephane Grenier Send private email
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Btw, I just read on your blog that you added login because of some spammy posts.

That's fine if you're a larger website, but at the start when you have no traction you shouldn't put off this task to your user base. Unfortunately it's something you'll have to deal with.

Just like tech support. If we were to use the technique of having each support request respond to a test email before it was submitted to our support team, well it just wouldn't fly. We'd lose a lot of sales. The onus is on you to deal with that.

Yes it sucks to have to filter this spammy data out, but that's part of the job (plus you should be able to process it really quick - I can't imagine hundreds of submissions on day 1). If you make the barrier to entry too high, and it doesn't take much, then you'll never achieve your critical mass.
Stephane Grenier Send private email
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
+1 to dealing with Spam by hand at first.

Turning away users is the last thing you want to do at this stage.  Let anybody post anything and ruthlessly weed out the spam.  Be sure to keep it around though, since you'll need it to train your Bayesian spam filter once your site gets any traction. 

I run a travel blogging site, and probably a third of all human-generated posts are spam these days.  It's just part of doing business.  Put guards in place to keep the automated stuff out, and train up some good filters to swat down as much of the rest as you can.

Good luck!
Jason Kester Send private email
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Thanks for all of your feedback. What I realize now (obvious in hindsight) is that it's not clear to new users what they're looking at, especially without a lot of content having been added yet. The map defaults its location for first-time users based on their IP, and in many cases that is going to result in a blank map.

To improve this, I've done/will do the following:

1. I added a "quick help" screen that shows up once for new users and is accessible via a "Help" button. This just quickly explains the available features. When I get a chance I'll try to make this into more of a "tour."

2. I will remove the constraint that only logged in users can add sites. This was reactive on my part and I agree it is too big a barrier. When a user submits a new sports site, I'll have a manual approval process before everyone sees it.

3. I am going to slowly seed as many major cities as I can. I'd really rather have content generated from people who use these parks/sites personally, but hopefully that will come through in comments. Perhaps I'll also add an "edit" feature that allows people to queue up edits for approval, so over time the descriptions will evolve.

4. I'm torn on the adsense issue. The only real business model for this is advertising of some sort, but I don't think adsense is doing a great job targeting. It's sort of a placeholder for now until I can come up with something more sophisticated. I don't really want to remove it completely and create the illusion that there will never be any adverts, but perhaps I'll switch to a less obtrusive view. Certainly if anyone has alternatives, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks again, I know it's a bit raw, but this early feedback is very helpful. I'll try to pay it forward next time I see somebody else looking for feedback.

Jeremy Liles Send private email
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Definitely ditch the adsense.  It won't do anything at all for you at this stage.  Even when you're looking at 50,000 unique visitors per month, it will still only bring less than $20/month.

For a site like yours, I'd recommend you get used to the fact that you're never going to see any revenues from it.  Run with that assumption for a couple years and focus on building something that people want to use.  If it turns out that you get a huge following someday, then you can reassess and start thinking about money.
Jason Kester Send private email
Friday, August 15, 2008

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