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Think Big. Move Fast.

Wired has an article in its November issue about Urban Baby and You Be Mom. Urban Baby is an anonymous forum for Moms. Like 4chan, its anonymity makes for a mix of candid discussions, raw honesty and trolling, but with a mommy bent (think cheating, divorce and public schools). Says Wired:

Then in May, UrbanBaby, which was purchased by CNET in 2006, launched a redesign. All hell broke loose.

The changes weren’t huge, but each of them subtly altered the flow of conversation. CNET added a wide sidebar on the site to create space for ads. This reduced the reading area, a big problem on a board with hundreds of comments per hour. Discussions had been organized chronologically, but immediately after the relaunch, the default setting had “most popular” threads at the top, even if they had been started days earlier. Worse, you had to refresh your browser to see new posts. UrbanBaby users went nuts, demanding a return to the old design.

They soon got it. But not from UrbanBaby. A week after CNET rolled out the hated redesign, a couple of work-at-home computer programmers—longtime UrbanBaby users themselves—launched a rival site called YouBeMom.

They perfectly re-created the look and feel of the old boards. Better yet, they made improvements, including a souped-up search engine and privacy controls that make sure your spouse can’t use your computer to find out what you’ve been posting. They also set up a blog to capture users’ requests for site improvements and to outline what YouBeMom plans to do about them.

Within days, there was a mass exodus of users from UrbanBaby to the new site. CNET won’t give out traffic figures, and neither will the owners of YouBeMom. But I logged on to both sites recently and compared how often people posted. I’d estimate that YouBeMom has three times the traffic of UrbanBaby. That’s just how fragile a social application can be.

I found much higher comment volume and more vibrant conversations at YouBeMom as well when I looked at conversations on similar themes on both sites. The moral of the story according to Wired:

People have a very sophisticated sense for their online hangout—if you mess up the feel of it, or impede the ways they want to schmooze online, they’re gone.

What a terrific parable about the importance of community. What is strange though is that the traffic stats don’t appear to bear it out:

According to Compete, not only is Urban Baby far bigger that You Be Mom, but the redesign actually seems to have dramatically grown usage.

Sometimes communities are more robust than you think. Redesigns almost always create a lot of negative feedback when they first occur because all users hate change. You have to leave a little time to pass for users to get used to the changes before you can truly judge if the redesign has been a success or a failure.

There are three classes of user within social media, creators, curators and consumers. It may well be that many of the Urban Baby creators moved to YouBeMom, but the 90% of social media consumers, who read but don’t write, stayed at Urban Baby.

Do any readers have experiences of the impact of redesigns on a community?

  • http://www.rashmisinha.com/ rashmi

    I wrote about Upcoming’s redesign and how it completely changed my use of the app. From my informal survey of friends, it had the same impact on them: http://rashmisinha.com/2008/10/22/upcomings-disastrous-switch-from-personal-social-to-general-social/

  • http://bemmu.blogspot.com Bemmu Sepponen

    This was one of the most interesting posts on LVP yet. I had considered communities to be really tight, not easily broken by something like this. But I guess this goes to show that the moment a site does something to distance itself from its community, that community no longer feels any particular need to stay around if a better option exists.

  • http://www.google.com/analytics metricsguru

    The unique visitor chart only tells part of the story. Looking at their other statistics, YouBeMom surpasses UrbanBaby in all user engagement metrics. UrbanBaby’s total growth measured in visits appears roughly the same as 1 year prior.

    The high unique visitor growth coupled with low user engagement suggests more visitors are coming to the site, but fewer are sticking around (possibly due to the content portions of their site? content syndication? email marketing?) Overall the comparative stats do in fact show a significant negative impact on the health of their community.

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