As online communities expand, prevailing site cultures that once seemed immovable are increasingly put at risk.
The bigger the Community gets, the harder it becomes to both maintain order and serve each and every user in an individual sense. This reduction in personal attention can be devastating for a user base, no matter how positive and nurturing the site culture once was. It leaves room for tensions to erupt and valuable contributors to get discouraged and pack their bags.
Like many things in life, success on the Web has its consequences—and indeed, Bleacher Report has had more than its fair share of good news of late.
We were able to raise cash in the middle of an economic crisis, allowing us to more than double our staff of uber-talented employees and providing plenty of breathing room to sustain the operation well into the future.
We’ve just launched an exciting new partnership with CBS Sports that will bring the lifelong dreams of 32 of our best NFL writers to fruition.
Site readership continues to flourish, and new members are signing up for Bleacher Report accounts at a record pace.
The list goes on. It’s been one helluva ride, and the craziest part is that the journey has only just begun...
And yet, despite how well things are going on the surface, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that lately, deep down, something just hasn’t felt right.
As I said: With success come consequences.
Bleacher Report, as awesome and revolutionary as it may be, is no exception.
When my friends and I first started the site a little over three years ago, we had no writers. We sought out to find them, and, soon enough, we did.
But in the very beginning, the benefits B/R presented to sports writers hadn’t yet been proven. So we wrote the articles ourselves to build a foundation that others like us would find attractive.
Debating sports issues was a lifelong passion for the four Founders of this Web site. In Bleacher Report, we had created a product that, among other things, we loved using.
We knew others would love it, too. And they did. It’s since been our pleasure to embark on this journey with an army of contributors far more knowledgeable and skilled than us.
Nowadays, the four of us spend nearly all of our efforts and energies advancing the business itself, publishing articles sparingly. While this may be unavoidable given the rate at which the site has grown, it’s important to recognize the implications of such a trend.
Early last week, my good friend Saraswathi Sirgina wrote me an email titled “You.”
I mean, who wouldn’t want to open up an email like that? It made me feel special, as her emails often do.
But on this day, Sarah wasn’t in the mood to shower me with compliments. Rather, she had a serious Community matter to discuss with me.
I’ve reprinted the message here:
This is a personal request. Among the four of you (B, 2Ds) you are the most visible person. Please can you get back up in the front page on the writer rankings and stay there. It is important for the site and for people like us who need to show what is quality.
This is not just a request, it is more than that. Though I don’t have a right with regards to BR to give you an order, as a friend I can certainly do so, and if I have to plead with you, request you, yell at you, I will do it.
It seems like you’ve become a very selective writer, no way! The whole point of the site, in a back ended way is that you write, so please could you stop being just an owner, site admin, Community GM and just be a writer.
Don the robes Z, as that is no mean talent to shelve and I need you to show the way.
This truly struck me. I couldn't sleep all of Monday night.
My inclination wasn’t to whip up a new MLB history piece. That may have been Sarah’s intention, but my thoughts were, in fact, in a different place entirely.
I spent a long time reflecting on the entity that is Bleacher Report, and finally recognized that I’ve been getting the sense more and more of a divide growing between the Company and the Community. Sometimes it seems like the two operate in completely separate silos from one another.
This didn’t use to be the case—and I actually always thought of it as something that set Bleacher Report apart from other online communities.
Once upon a time, I made it my business to get to know each and every writer on the site. In those days, keeping the Founders up to speed with the pulse of the Community was easy enough, and letting the Community know where the four of us saw things heading was equally simple.
After all: we were all just writers at that point.
Things have changed. The site is a lot bigger now than it was 18, 12, or even six months ago.
To the great credit of all the Bleacher Creatures who have worked tirelessly to create a home for the aspiring sportswriters of the world, the cultural foundation of our Community remains strong today.
I see senior contributors going out of their way to lend a hand to new contributors every day.
Our writers generally conduct themselves with professionalism and integrity at all times.
Conversation in the comment threads, by and large, is characterized by intelligent debate and passionate camaraderie.
The notion that we’re all in this together—united by a common goal to prove to the naysayers that citizen journalism has a permanent home in the world of sports media—still exists.
These are the things that make our community so special. We lived by this code of conduct when the site was first getting started, and we continue to pay tribute to these ideals today.
But we’re at a crossroads right now. This puppy is growing into a dog right before our eyes—and that dog can either end up frolicking with its fellow canines in green pastures with plenty of clean water, or end up at Michael Vick’s house.
We cannot afford to take anything for granted. This culture that we’ve worked so hard to create is not a given, by any means.
All of us need to step up to the plate right now at this crucial time in the history of Bleacher Report. The site cannot continue to grow at the rate that it has if the community falls by the wayside.
It all begins with communication. Bleacher Report, like any venture, may fall short of all of our ambitious expectations in the long run.
But I’ll be damned if it does so because we didn’t find the time to sit down and talk.
Hence why I started this column, Community Matters. This is where the intersection between "Bleacher Report: The Company," and "Bleacher Report: The Community" shall occur.
The Founders—along with the rest of those lucky enough to work full time in this office—spend a good portion of our lives figuring out how to improve BleacherReport.com.
Going forward, I plan to write posts on a regular basis that keep all of you in the loop with where we’re spending our time and energy. We’ll be more transparent about what Community behaviors we want to encourage, what new features are coming, and how existing features are being improved.
I want to tell you about the amazing people we’ve hired, and why you should care.
I want to give you the Company take on the major issues affecting the Community.
I want us get to a point where you guys trust that, even when it appears we’re sitting on our laurels and not dealing with a pressing problem, we’re in fact working our butts off and using all of our resources to find the best possible solution.
Please use the comment threads below my posts to share your thoughts. I should be up-front with the fact that, in all likelihood, I’m not necessarily going to be able to respond to every comment.
But you have my word that I will read every comment—and not for my own personal amusement, but because your feedback is essential to the business decisions we make each and every day.
The future of Bleacher Report looks to be an amazingly bright one, but we have zero chance of realizing our potential without a full commitment from the members of our staff and Community alike.
It’s time for us to talk, gang. Let’s rock ’n’ roll.