Build Online Websites Like Offline Real Estate

The real estate industry is a much older industry then the current technology industry most of us interact with everyday via our phones and computers. Tonight I heard an interesting perspective from David Karp, the Founder of Tumblr, connecting the two industries in regards to how we should think when building digital real estate (online platforms & communities) within the technology industry.

Tumblr as you know was acquired by Yahoo for $1.1 Billion and the community at that time was reported around 300 million monthly unique visitors. That is a pretty big chunk of virtual land. The analogy David made was comparing the similar way an online community of people hang out on their favorite website to the way an offline community of people hang out at their favorite bar.

Let's play this analogy out and throw in a main character here. We can call the main character in this analogy Ted. Now say Ted goes to MacLaren's Pub every week to meet up with his friends. For the sake of adding a bit more realism to this story, let's give Ted's friends names too. We can call them Marshall, Robin, Barney, and Lily. I just came up with those on the fly, pretty good right? Now, each time this group of friends comes to MacLaren's Pub they sit in their favorite booth. They get drinks, order food, and good times are had whenever visiting MacLaren's Pub. This is their bar. This is their community. 

Then one day the owner of the bar decides it's time to move some furniture around. He bought some fancy new tables and chairs which will increase the revenue per square foot of the pub. In comes the new tables and chairs and out goes the booth. It gets thrown out. 

The next day Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lilly, and Barney all come back to visit their favorite booth at MacLaren's Pub to find that it is now gone! The food is as good as it was before, the drinks are the same temperature, the walls are the same color, but now their favorite booth is gone. And the first thought that crosses the mind of Ted, Robin, Marshall, Lilly, and Barney is the thought: "They can't do this to us, this is our bar! This is our community!"

Now re-read the above HIMYM metaphor and replace MacLaren's Pub with a website and the friends with that website's users. I really like this analogy. It makes you always remember that there are humans making up the loyal online community of most websites. It can be easy to forget this at times when just viewing click maps, analyzing Google Analytics, checking cost per user acquisition models, and judging conversion data. Just like re-arranging the furniture in your house, you need to always be thinking about how that change will affect the people who spend the most time in that space. So next time you are thinking about pushing a big release to your website or product that could alter the way your community uses it, make sure you think carefully about how you do so or your visitors might just go to another bar.