Judy’s Book & community building

by greg on July 16, 2005

Anyone using Judy’s Book? I need a couple of friends to comprehensively evaluate this new social network. When I first started signing up, and clicked on the ‘about’ page, I thought they’d selected a very solid and profitable niche to go after. From that ‘about’ page:

Unlike other local search resources, Judy’s Book is devoted to local answers by parents, for parents. As a Judy’s Book member, you have access to family-oriented local information like:

* What’s the best preschool or elementary school in your neighborhood?
* Who should you choose as your pediatrician, and why?
* How can you save money on family travel?
* Which date-night movie or kid-friendly restaurant should you try next?

Doesn’t lead to a lot of mentions by the geek contingent, but that’s some nice targeting. By restricting the network to parents, the network becomes qualitatively more interesting to parents. In an Internet already dripping with social networks, restricting focus is a huge advantage – it lets their community become the master of one thing instead of an amateur at everything. Who’s an advertiser more likely to work with, after all – a diffuse demographic or a tight one with demonstrated interest in their product’s area?

It turns out that my favorable impression was just due to sheer chance – I’d clicked on the ‘about’ link during sign-up instead of on the main page. The ‘about‘ pages outside of the sign-up flow don’t mention parents at all. Instead, they’re full of a bunch of vague statements about bringing democracy to the advertising business and restoring customer trust to local search results, which primarily means ‘hey, we want reviews.’ Oops. Did someone change focus along the way and forget to update all the messaging?

What do I know – but to me, that feels like a huge mistake. Social networks need to pick a community and target it if they’re going to build up any community at all; trying to grow to critical mass without focus is nothing but a gamble. Giving out ‘free iPod shuffles’ and $5 Starbucks cards for written reviews (that ought to drive some search engine traffic) – isn’t going to keep users long term in the way shared circumstances and values can. Ask for the names and ages of children right within the signup flow. Incorporate baby picture sharing into the profile page. Plenty of money to be made without going after the entire world…

An aside: I’d really love to see a social networking ‘profile holder’ that could provide information in a standard format to new ones – so I didn’t have to sign up for yet another social network. Instead, I could just import a file like I import my feed subscriptions through OPML. If the ‘profile holder’ contained unique IDs, I could even specify who my friends were and have them automatically added to my account when they imported their profiles. But what’s the incentive to create such a service? It’d have to be free and no existing social network is going to be the first to sink resources into it for fear they’re just going to cause people to migrate elsewhere. Everyone’s guarding that user base…

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