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You Can't Build Community with a Carrot

I was recently pointed to Existential Ventures, where Broc is giving away a printer to one of the first 500 people who join his MyBlogLog "community". His inspiration was John Chow and apparently NetBusinessBlog joined in to. It looks like John has been able to drive the numbers of his MyBlogLog community to over 1000 people. John gave away a flash drive.

I’m generally a fan of contests – I think they can be used to promote products and bring awareness to issues in creative ways. I love Mike Davidson’s iPod giveaway contests, where we would challenge readers to be creative – see the comments on the Steve Jobs Movie Poster giveaway – funny stuff. Mike’s contest was about creativity and community. Sure it served to drive page views and make his site more popular, but it wasn’t about numbers or the iPod – it was about people participating because they are genuinely engaged with Mike and his readers.

When I see the MyBlogLog giveaways, it rubs me the wrong way. It feels disingenuous, like a get rich quick scheme that has no long term sustainability. I realize that “community�? in the case of MyBlogLog is not meant in a literal sense. However, I feel like these contests are a reflection of the idea that building community has shortcuts –like you can build any community you want if you have a sexy enough carrot.

Like I said, I realize that the MyBlogLog contests may not even seek to actually build a “community�?. However, I think they serve as an example of a popular misconception of communities on the web – that numbers matter more than substance. At the end of the day, the community that has genuinely engaged and motivated members, in whatever numbers, will produce higher quality results than those who joined because of a contest or some other ulterior motive. There are no shortcuts - communities are hard work.