Web Communities and Social Networks Need Transparency

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I need you all to think about your answer to this question I received in an email: “What would be the one fundamental principle every social networking community must have for maintaining its integrity to the people who are using that site?”. To me… the answer is simple. Say it with me: Transparency.

Transparency is the number one underlying principle for any website or network that plans to connect people together. It’s about transparency between the network and the people using the network. There’s nothing special there. It’s open, and it’s honest. If you’re not open with your audience… what are you? If you decide to make a change and your audience isn’t up to speed, they may not like it. However, if you’re open about the entire thing from start to finish, your audience will certainly be much more receptive.

There is such a thing as a degree of transparency. Too much isn’t a good thing. You need to be open just enough. If you aren’t, people will think of you as dishonest or hiding something from them. There are a million and one social networks out there. What’s the value of one over another? That’s up to each individual who uses them. The more transparent you are, the better off you’ll be. The people who will disagree are the one who are used to dealing with public relations’ spins. They tend to deal with creating the illusion of transparency. They always seem to forget how much we can all see right through the illusions.

I’ve been a community leader on the Internet for many years now. I’ve been as open about the process as I possibly could’ve been. It’s difficult to be transparent – make no mistake about it. It’s hard to make mistakes and deal with problems out in the open, and hope that everyone understands. However, it’s usually easier to deal with imperfections when you do so openly. People will realize you’re human, and they’ll open up to you and connect with you on a much higher level.

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61 thoughts on “Web Communities and Social Networks Need Transparency”

  1. Pingback: DygiScape
  2. Pingback: Anonymous
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  4. Pingback: Chris Pirillo
  5. They need to be simple to use, and page loads easily. The legal stuff is not that important to the average user. The interface needs to be simple to understand. Not too busy. Facebook is an example of a busy interface.

  6. Virb . com is doing everything that I’ve ever wanted a social networking site to do minus domains. It destroys myspace and facebook in my personal opinions. I know it’s much better for bands than MySpace, and better for people than Facebook is. I frickin’ HATE facebook!

  7. They need to get all those ads out of my face. I’d be okay with them if they weren’t blinking and distracting.. Some are down right misleading, looking like a new message alert on MySpace meanwhile it’s an ad.

    Other than that the biggest thing is THE SITE SHOULD WORK! How many times have you run into the MySpace “this has been forwarded to our technical department” error?

    You should also be able to totally delete your account/profile and all traces of yourself. Don’t hold my info hostage.

  8. You have a great point about being transparent and honest with your audience. By doing so, they have more trust in you with what you do and say.

    Anyhow, I can’t help laughing at how goofy you are in the end of this segment!

  9. Personally, I don’t really like social networking sites (like orkut and facebook and myspace, etc.). Too many people, way too much BS lying around.
    But they do need transparency.

  10. you’ve got a point Chris..

    A certain degree of transparency is a must…. Now, I’m not talking about code, and trade secrets, although I am one of those nuts that believes -everything- ought to be written with open source code, but at the moment that isnt my point. Think of it this way, how many times have we seen it happen…. something goes wrong with a common service… we, the users -know- there is something wrong, we use this stuff every day, backward and forward, but the company… continues to insist that there is no problem… that everything is sound, that it must be -user error-… until finally we get to the point where things are -so bad- the company in question is forced to take responsibility and make a statement. Now they have to spend money to fix a big problem, which had they been open with us to begin with, could have been fixed when it was a small problem, before in snowballed.

  11. I really enjoyed this article, and clicked the links at the end “Social Networking On Squidoo” and “Flip That Lens On Squidoo For Pure Profit!” thinking they would be additional resources for the article. Seems that they are actually undisclosed ads. Transparency?

  12. I’ll have to just say, I agree with you on this one. Honesty would also be tops on my list which is just about the same as what you said.

  13. Transparency is indeed very important. For example if you make Change to lets say the Entire interface of the page without informing the Users of that network than they might begin to think that you will be making large changes without letting them know or saying there opinions. If that happens than they will lose there audience and that network will eventually go down because the users didn’t like that.

  14. As far as i see it being on a personal coommunity like facebook and its just you and your real life friends then it doesnt really matter how u say stuff cuz u can always explain in real life
    but in your case being a “community” leader you can say one thing and a group of your audience might take it wrong
    and that transperacy is a great thing that sites should go by and let users do

  15. It takes a big man (not so hard for women) to fess up to doing something wrong. I think the same thing applies to transparency. It is incredibly difficult to show oneself as you really are and it is even worse to try to do it for all of your life, not just your public life. I think that Chris has done a great job of showing nearly everything.

    Thanks for sharing your life with us Chris!!

  16. My answer in a way is the same to the question as Chris’s is. I think social networking community sites, the people that made the site need to stay off the site, but still be there. Let me try to explain this. They need to stay to keep the site up and running, fix bugs, update stuff, let us know if something is getting fixed of updated, and making sure noone is abusing it. Beyond that they should leave it alone and let the people use the site to communicate in the way they want. Just like in real life if your talking on a phone your not going to talk a lot if you think all the time someone is listening on the line to every word you say. Thats just my take. Have a good day all. Thanks for your review Chris Pirillo.

  17. Chris,

    All social networking sites have to be very careful now-a-days. I think that people do not realize what happens when they post things online. I know many people who have gotten in trouble in chat rooms, blogs, Facebook, etc. But that it just because they were very stupid about things. You have to be very careful on what you post on the net, or else you might get hurt. Remember, once it is out there it does not go away. Example this is what Chris said a number of years ago:

    “Hey Apple? I’m not a fan of yours. I guess that means I won’t be seeing any CEASE AND DESIST letters in my mailbox anytime soon, eh? You know, most of us Windows users realize that Microsoft has decimated the competition, leveled the playing field, and taken part in underhanded business practicies since we were birthed by our motherboards. We know that. Still, that doesn’t stop us from buying the operating system. For some, Windows is the only choice. It’s not so much that they don’t care for your operating system – it’s your elitist attitude that gets in the way.”

    Well that is that. It was his opinion years ago, and it is out there. I found it. But that is an example of Chris being transparent, and he has made it clear why he switched to Mac. Cool. Good for you Chris! Keep it up!

  18. I agree with you 100 percent. Transparency can bring your community into the decision making process. Just look at Facebook with Beacon which was a total disaster. People should be honest with everything they do. Being sly and shady don’t help anyone.

  19. sites that are open to what they do are doing very well and the other sites that are closed off and don t tell people what is going on usually go under and are forgotten because people don’t want to be in a community were the people that run the don’t tell you anything. to most people they don’t want to be lied to under any circumstance. specially at a place were you are expressing your life

  20. I would add simplicity to that list. Facebook, for example used to be great, and had a few new, but usefull, innovations, such as image tagging. Then, when they added a login news feed that told you everything everyone you knew was doing, and told everyonewhatyou were doing, and who you’re dating, and how your feeling, they started calling it Stalkbook. Then they added a billion applications,some useful, some fun, and some utterly pointless and annoying. The complication hasgone overboard, something as simple as reading a friend’s wall can now take 5 or 6 thousand pixels (or more) of scrolling to get to. Using Facebook as just one example, a simple UI and layout can vastly extend the reach of the community.

  21. Yup, transparency is the way to go. I like networks that let people know what is going on, not something as “well I went to the restroom” from a Admin, but something like “We are under maintenance” or some of the sort, not that I just cannot log in…
    -Ruben

  22. Dear CPU Champion,

    Transparency really seems to be a hot buzz-word these days. My thoughts on the subject are two-fold:

    1) I think a lot of people are still hesitant to use their real name on the internet. (To learn why, all you need to do is turn on your local news at night). Many seem to be more comfortable with using a pen-name of sorts. (Does this fall within your transparency guidelines?)

    2) Honesty is certainly the best policy. I started a new health website just a few days ago and I’ve ALREADY found it difficult to be transparent with people. I mean, my diet certainly isn’t perfect, but there seems to be this constant temptation to make others believe that I’m some sort of health ninja. The reality, of course, is that my message to others would probably go a lot further if I’m open and honest with people so they can see that I have the same struggles as they do.

    Perfekt in every way,
    James Gia

  23. i agree with you, Transparency, that is what is the most important, lying and secrets are the worst that exist, if you are open about stuffs then people will understand what you are thinking and chances are that they will agree with you more easily. People don’t like to fast changes, at least i know that i don’t.
    Many times in my life i have always hated surprises or things that has been announced to quick, a example someone in your family talks with someone on the phone that you haven’t talked with for ages,, then they give you the phone quickly when you aren’t prepared or not in the mood to talk to someone, it might be a last minute request like i need to go there to buy this or we are going to grandma, i hate be unprepared.

  24. I’m seeing a recurring theme to blog posts lately and that is “open-ness” with a community. As I’ve said in previous posts of mine “open-ness” or transparency, is the key to success. Open communities are more friendly, more energized, and more rewarding to be a part of than communities which keep secrets, and whose producers/webmasters hold a tight leash.

    Like Chris said there is a possibility of being over transparent, but keeping a brick wall between you and your fan base is the best way to kill a community off.

  25. With any Social Network site there is stuff they need to keep private. But it is a great plus when they inform users about features soon to come. This would cause people to go and tell there friends about ti and get more people. As well as possibly get feedback about if that feature would be used or not. I beleve flicker had something like this happen where they added videos.

  26. I seem to use a lot of the different social networks. I have a Facebook account, a MySpace account, I use Twitter. I have all of these different accounts, because I have different friends on different clients. I wish there was a universal social network client. I found a solution to that with IM’s I now use Pidgin. But I guess until something is developed I have to go to each site, and update it regularly.

  27. Yes, it is always important to be honest to your audience, that is why I love this website and your live stream so much! You don’t hide anything from us, I can even hear you get into fights with Ponzi sometimes 😛 I think this is very cool and this aspect makes me come back to this website everyday.

    Thanks for the blog post Chris

  28. Hey Chris, if you were transparent… I think you might need infra red on your camera to pick up an image =) I don’t use the social networks such as MySpace or Facebook that much… however I am a member of the [H] forums and the like. I do appreciate honesty and participation on everybody’s part, it just makes the experience much more interactive and real. I personally have always appreciated your ability to be yourself regardless of the nature of your topic… if you don’t know something, you’ll admit that and if you do know it, you’ll give your honest answer or opinion. I used to see you on Tech TV and you’ve always been up front and open as far as I can tell. You call it like you see it, and that’s rare these days. Keep it up.

  29. agree with you on that… honesty/transparency online is quite rare unfortunately… i’m just happy there are still people who are honest even when they are online. i’m not saying we shouldn’t trust people, but rather be cautious…

  30. When I was in school, my social networking profiles were pretty open and designed like the majority of users. But as I was nearing graduation and applying to grad schools, I started to tame it down a little. I did this because companies and admissions departments have people that browse social networking sites. So I untagged myself from pictures and the like that were not appropriate for them to see. I wasn’t lying, and I’m a good person, I just change how I was being looked at my the public.

  31. Transparency and accountability is important for any company or business. The Internet is a perfect place to get feed back, there are millions of users on line at any time. Getting feed back is easy, and a must have i think. If you want people to use your business you have to pander to the user’s., I would say pander allot and as much as you can as long as your business isn’t falling apart by it.

  32. yes, transparency is very good for me, i love hearing about something say in a group that just happened a second earlier. It’s like so much fun. But I do feel that it might get crazy with certain things but by then i feel that i will just stop using things like facebook and such. thanks chris for talking about this.

  33. Chris is the definition of transparency. Or at least a shining example. His live streaming and video blogs are cutting edge. I don’t know of any other vlogger who is as entertaining, tech savvy, likable, and free from pretense. Not to mention how prolific he is with his vlogs. But the most important thing to me is the LACK OF PRETENSE. I don’t like people, or companies, who I don’t believe are sincere and honest. Now when it comes to large corporations, obviously sincerity, honesty, and the lack of pretense is a very rare thing. But when it comes to social networking sites, nothing could be more important than the transparency of the creators. Still, I think true, honest transparency from any corporate entity is a pipe dream. If the service is to make any money, there needs to be a certain level of scheming, conniving, or greed, doesn’t there? Isn’t a certain amount of DISHONESTY, to some degree, even if it is seemingly superficial, inherent to the process of making money? Perhaps that is too cynical, but if you believe that money is the root of all evil, then I’d think you would agree.

  34. It’s not only about the underlying user experience.. its about the way things work together. I think this is one of the good factors about the way MySpace works. Everyone knows MySpace, and are starting to provide MySpace ready links on their sites that will link it right through MySpace… and while I say I’ve used them sometimes, they kinda get in the way. Its just another thing that kinda gets in the way of my overall experience. Twitter on the other hand, does it all different.. and correctly. They do it discreetly, and effectively.

  35. I’m not that open. I want to keep who I am a secret so that I can avoid online dangers.

  36. Besides transperancy, there has to be a common theme that we all agree on. For example, I started out on the net by going to an fan site for the show Alias. We all liked Alias, so if there was ever anything that we were talking about, we could use an Alias metaphor or catch phrase. For this site, technology is the common thread. Honesty and a point of similarity.

  37. I use multiple community accounts to connect to different people (known for being a “copy cat” due to blending in in almost any type of group, I get along with just about everyone as long as my beliefs or ideas connect), I may not say everything about me, but I do interact with others as long it’s something I fully believe.

  38. I totally agree Chris. Every social site needs a certain level of interaction between the network and the people (audience). Some sites just need to know that if you go totally transparent, there could be some problems.

  39. Transparency and respect are great underlining principles taht should be shared by social networks. If the social network doesn’t have respect for their community the community will soon leave that network.

  40. Transparency…I agree. Transparency allows for your audience to gain more trust with what you’re saying and feel more at ease with you. This way it appears that you aren’t hiding anything, which is always a great way of bonding between audience and speaker.

  41. Of course, it would be perfect if everyone was completely honest and transparent. But the fact of the matter is that most of the time, it doesn’t happen that way. People lie. It’s going to require some huge changes to have a so-called “honest Internet”.

  42. openess is the key to the success on the Internet. You wouldn’t lie (hopefully) when applying for a job or a credit card, so why do it on the Internet? Your friends and/or followers will lose trust in you and may not follow you anymore if you lie. Lying is the beginning of the downhill tumble you will go on. Just stay honest, and it should be smooth sailing for you and your community.

  43. I would have to agree with Rx7turboII because if you don’t make anything simple enough, people will not want to use whatever you are creating. I also think that all of these social networks should join together because there are just way too many. The internet is becoming too big and is not looking transparent enough. The internet is kind of separating into social networks all over the world. Lets all connect together!

  44. Unfortunately, there is no “honor code” on the internet. This is because people do not understand why happens when they post something on the internet. Thousands of people will see your content, and if you are untruthful about something, or you lie, you will be called out on it. Therefore, your online reputation is instantly lost.

  45. I believe my network is transparent, however I really don’t understand what you mean. As a social network administrator I’m open to the public. My networks, Boricua Space & WY Space, are very successful. WY Space is Wisin y Yandel’s new network for fans to express, discuss, & share thoughts, ideas, & music with the community. I’m not sure what you mean by “Transparency”. If you mean see though, Vista Glass thing then no, however I still don’t understand your statements.

  46. I agree with you 100%, transparency is the key to success in social networking. Being open and honest with your audience creates a sense of trust and comfort. That way your audience is more involved. If you aren’t open and lie to your audience, they will abandon your site and move elsewhere.

  47. If all social networking websites/communities had transparency, then members will most likely stay with them. Once you lose a trust of members, then you are losing a lot of business! You won’t get anything by hiding whatever you’re doing towards your website, and members will get suspicious.

  48. One more important thing is to real control somehow who have registered and if he had registered with his own name with his own ID because I could make a facebook profile with the name of Chris and get his mails or even write mails in his name. but I don’t know any possibility to make that.

  49. This is a really interesting relevant subject! Now more than ever social networks are beginning to see the benefits of being as kind to their user as possible. And giving the user the transparency to see whats happening done this perfectly. It allows people to know where they stand and what is really going on. Through this I believe a stronger trust can be achieved across the board, thus providing a much richer experience for everyone involved.

  50. I sure do agree with you TRANSPARENCY ftw ^^, Chris blogs, live video stream and chat is the best one out there i think, because people can constantly be in connection with each other, read new blogs and reviews and also having their own topics in chat rooms. So yeah open means good and many people interested (including me)

  51. Which social network would you say is the most transparent? The least? Many people are afraid of transparency which is the sole reason they choose to become part of an online social network… and others want to share everything about them to the strangers that may run across their piece of the net. The point is, the user should choose their transparency… not the network.

  52. Transperency indeed is the way that Web Communities and Social Networks should go.Also as you said very hard to be transperent.Since I got onto your website I saw this.Hope from now on you’ll be same Chris I knew

  53. I was glad to recently see that Zuckerburg admitted Beacon was a mistake, great to see Facebook owning up to its mistakes, while I still an worried about what I put out there, I’ve found myself doing more stuff as of late, hopefully it doesn’t bite me

  54. A lot of companies don’t tell about people who work for them… Google… Yahoo!… and other people… People want to know who you are so they can thank you for making such good products. ( or telling them that their product sucks! ). Unless Google has a [email protected]… nobody knows who works at google, except.. the people who DO in fact work at google…

  55. The Beacon nonsense is one of the major reasons I had Facebook cancel my account, that and the spam of course.

  56. Transparency is good, but unfortunately, not everyone is completely honest. While absolute transparency will never be achieved, if people abide by a certain online code of morals, things can get better.

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