PuzzleBee jigsaw puzzle app from TheBroth inside Facebook – nothing to do with the handcuffs/alcohol ๐Ÿ˜›

TheBroth is a collaborative art community. I wasn’t too sure what that meant at first, but it seems you can enter a room and work with others on a piece of art. Or, in my case, just splash tiles around. ๐Ÿ™‚ TheBroth was set up by Sue Zann Toh and Markus Weichselbaum in Perth. There must be something in the water over there – Perth is rockin’, Web 2.0-wise. Hmmm maybe I should move there.

Here’s the Mosaic room:
See those little itsybitsy tiles? Drag them around. That’s what Arewenna (top left corner) is doing. I actually clicked the Print Screen with that tile in mid-motion. In rooms with others, you can all drag tiles around, watching where each other is placing the tile, and use chat, presumably to argue about it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Visitors can play without having to be registered, but registering gives a whole swag of benefits.

So let’s have a bit of a lecture. Oi! Where ya goin’?

Roles in a Community and Purpose: The first roles you have to define upon building a community are for registered vs non-registered users. This goes to the heart of your purpose and effectively you are placing yourself in a first-timer-to-your-community’s shoes. What do I as the visitor need to see to be intrigued, to understand the purpose of the community and determine if it aligns with my purpose? Critical to this evaluating “why I will/not join” is to display the number of other members. An awful lot of people will walk away if they can’t see if you have more than oh, 3 people joined. When you buy a newspaper, you probably don’t think of circulation figures, but thats because a newspaper is not conversation based. In a community it is imperative to know that there is a buzz going on. The numbers don’t have to be huge (a small community can work for you) but the numbers have to be clear, so the potential member can align the member purpose with the host purpose.

While The Broth doesn’t tell you number of members, you can do a bit of hunting to find out that it’s not dead. I checked out a couple of members – the most prolific – and they seemed to have a thousand or two friends each. I’m guessing they sign up everyone on sight – there’s always a member or two that do that. Tom from MySpace wasn’t original in that sense. ๐Ÿ™‚ The Broth gets around the “dead community”fear by displaying latest forum posts, best artwork, members of the week and so on, on the main page. Hmm wait, I just found something almost invisible in the top right: Our visitors have moved 52759084 tiles and made 2023796 strokes. That’s either one person who now has RSI or a lot of people. ๐Ÿ™‚

Video is all very good, but that’s not how I personally choose to learn. I’d really like a simplified Help page. With a really simplified 1-2-3 walkthrough. Why? Because the pages are really busy with HEAPS and HEAPS of INFORMATION YELLING AT YOU and, while I’m not a teenager (which could be the target demographic here), I do have the attention span of oh, a gnat. I didn’t understand that the tiles weren’t the rooms (they are both square), I didn’t understand the option of freehand vs tiles until I had been in the community for 15 minutes. I was frankly overwhelmed. Your Mileage May Vary – YMMV.

I’d also like a clear backstory. Backstory is sort of history plus biography plus vision/mission statement. The community is made up of members and the host. The host often forgets this. There is a bit of an ‘about the company’ in the The Broth Press folder, and a Developer’s Blog that you have to drill down into, but there is no About Us on the main page. The backstory is more than that. Craigslist is popular partly because the members liked Craig and his story about how the site came to be. It doesn’t have to be individuals who engender loyalty – Harley Davison certainly does – but the history/backstory has to be up there. I guess I’m saying the backstory is establishing the brand. Markus, I suggest you have an About Us, introducing yourselves, your love of art, your karate, stuff you suck at, and pull in pictures from your own gallery. Humanise the company behind the community. And don’t bury it in sublinks in the developer’s blog. Have a bloody big NEWCOMERS button and put everything under that – visitors will poke around and look at strangers artwork for a few minutes and then hit the HOME button to read about

  • the backstory,
  • the stated purpose of the community,
  • the price (don’t assume they know the pricing model or that it’s free)
  • the rules,
  • the age limit (god forbid I should peer up or peer down by accident :P),
  • whether its run by an offshoot of news.com or some cute couple in Perth,
  • is it only for Australians,
  • blah de blah.

You get the picture (yes, pun intended). Oh and if you are news.com.au or fairfax or ninemsn, talk in the backstory about the “small team of developers” who pass Sudoku around the office and sneak out early on Thursdays to play Dungeons and Dragons together. You get my gist. Not everyone wants to sign up to the MySpace community because it’s run by Foxtel with 100 million members. Swarm it down to human beings…

Mixture of freehand and tile pictures at TheBroth.com

When I visit a new social network I check out the Help function for the basics (FAQ assumes some prior knowledge) and the About Us for aligning my purpose with theirs. Takes me under 2 minutes to determine if I stay or if I go. So that’s two mild criticisms on entering TheBroth.

Overall, TheBroth is very cool, it was awesome watching other people create stuff on the fly. Absolutely TheBroth has compelling content – something a lot of communities struggle finding. I mean, I’m sure all communities think that the content they generate is compelling but there’s a difference between a bunch of people chatting and mucking around on forums and uploading user generated crap, to something like TheBroth collaborative team building art. It would be interesting to assess the applicability of this model as a tool for businesses.

I do have to confess that TheBroth is not really my cup of tea but I said the same thing about Facebook and now look at me. ๐Ÿ™‚ Nothing to do with them – all me – I’m just not that visual or creative.

In case you are wondering: I told Markus Weichselbaum ages ago I would look at TheBroth.com, but never got around to it. He ended up offering a mousemat to bribe me but I declined. So no, I’m not being paid to review TheBroth. (end of pseudo disclaimer). I just thought you might find it interesting. Are you interested in these sorts of reviews of social networks? Or should I stick with rambling on about CrackBook? It’s easier for me to write about the social networks I hang out in personally, be it blogs or virtual worlds, even though I do roam a bit and am faithful to none. Why? cos a blog is a very personal thing. Well mine is. I just like to throw out a few thoughts here and there about what I see – from the beginning I wasn’t sure if anyone would ever show up except by accident to read this stuff. But I’m willing to saddle up and ride off into distant communities if anyone out there says they’d like more reviews and less blogosphere analysis and events and jobs. So?

Feel free to vote – anonymously if you want – for TheBroth on Bloggerati Australia (the digg-like social voting site I set up for Australian Web 2.0 stuff). Don’t feel you have to submit Aussie Web 2.0 development/blogs/podcasts etc if you don’t want to, but Bloggerati will build traffic out to Australian Web 2.0 sites. Gotta share that Google Love around. ๐Ÿ™‚