Missoula’s Hank Green is Internet famous. He founded EcoGeek.org, noted by Time.com as one of the top 15 environmental news sites on the Web. Last year, he and his brother John exchanged video blogs every day as part of a project called Brotherhood 2.0, and the videos became so popular (more than 10 million views on YouTube) that it spawned an Internet community of “smart and nerdy young people” collectively called “Nerdfighters.” They even took over YouTube for a day. And now Nerdfighters.com is its own site, with more than 8,000 members.
The secret to Hank’s success on the Web? “If you can, put your creative energy into something and do it consistently and do it well,” he said Tuesday. “If you can do something you know you will like, then people will find it.”
Hank was speaking at a New West event at the Missoula Art Museum titled “The Secrets of Social Networking,” flanked by a couple other experts on the topic, NewWest.Net co-founder and Editor in Chief Courtney Lowery, and Steven Sundheim of Modwest and Grupthink. The trio — proof that Montana’s relative geographical isolation means nothing on the Web — chatted about the potentials (and pitfalls) of social networks.
“It turns out I’m a total closet geek, and I had no idea” Courtney said. Trained in print journalism, she was wooed to the Web to help start NewWest.Net with Jonathan Weber, who moderated Tuesday’s discussion. “It was the ability to not only deliver news but to create community around something important,” she said. Courtney’s also the founder of the Rural News Network, an initiative to establish online newspapers in small Montana communities that no longer have print newspapers. She said of the network: “What we’re seeing is this really cool sense of togetherness and community.”
Steven Sundheim is the co-founder of Modwest, a Web host that does business with more than 4,000 companies in 51 countries, and he’s the developer of the Grupthink software. Grupthink is an online source of collective wisdom, or as Steven said, it’s the ability “to take an online survey and turn that into a socially compelling and engaging experience.” (He admited, though, that he much prefers building online communities than actually participating in them.)
Grupthink’s value is three pronged, Steven said: (1) surfacing collective vision, (2) enabling corporate transparency (Grupthink is creating “private label” Grupthink sites for corporations), and (3) promoting user-centered innovation, i.e, to use Steven’s example, customers providing input on how to improve the Madden NFL video game.
Each of the panelists spoke to the challenges of building community and interaction online. Hank suggested asking people to “do things” as a good way to foster engagement; he cited the example of asking the Nerdfighters all to put something on their heads and then take a picture and send it in for inclusion in a video. Steven spoke to the power or rewards systems, even ones in which the rewards are simply points or stars that have no actual value other than “Internet fame.”
The discussion was followed by in-person social networking over beer and wine from Liquid Planet and food from Biga Pizza. The event, part of a regular series of conversations and networking events hosted by NewWest.Net, was co-sponsored by First Security Bank and Modwest.