The unfortunate truth about file sharing and community is that most community that has built up around file sharing is illegal.  From the early days of Napster to the more recent trends of Bit Torrent sharing media files make up the bulk of this type of community.  I have many opinions around this as I, too, have gone to that seedy underworld to download the Grateful Dead’s greatest hits however this blog post won’t talk about piracy or copyright law or international inconsistency.  What we will talk about is how to take these methodologies and incorporate them as another tool in your Community strategy.

For this post I must be candid, when it comes to community strategy this is probably my weakest area mainly because of the communities I’ve managed file sharing was a small or nonexistent.  Because of this this post is going to take the form of showing you some great applications of file sharing that will hopefully drive some ideas.

forrest lymburner

Some Cool Ways to Leverage File Sharing

Basic Doc Sharing

Most communities have the ability to share a file as part of their rich text editor be it in a blog post, forum post, wiki page, etc.  But very few community strategies take this into account as anything more than a complementary add-on feature.  Having a deep understanding of your user personas is key to knowing what types of files your users look at each day, what types of things they need.  Understanding this will allow you to architect sections of your community to focus on the end deliverable.  For example;  If you operate a community for carpenters the types of things you may want them to share are plans, designs, users manuals, building codes, etc.  On this carpenters community I may create an entire area specifically for the community members to request and post these documents.

Software Sharing

Outside of the illegal side of file sharing, I think this is probably the most common file swap out there.  Many companies who have a software side to either come together to write the code (like OpenStack.org), share pieces of code (like National Instruments) or to give people a place to give away or sell final state software that compliments the software (like Telligent’s Marketplace).  One of the common ways I have seen which make some more successful than others is the integration with code repository software.  Letting a person provide access or upload code to a joint place.  The most common integration I have seen is with Github (like Rackspace)

News Aggregation

While not always a “file”, I think of news aggregation as putting the content of your community in the hands of your community.  A great example of this is what happens in LinkedIn topic groups where like minded people join together to share news.  But in reality they are also sharing files, pictures, videos, and all other sorts of media.  The key here being that you are enabling the sharing of your community to your community for your community.  While most communities content comes from the community team or company who owns the site this type of community strategy transfers the control to the masses.  Creating a section on your site specifically for sharing the “news” or “happenings” in your space can be a powerful draw for community membership and doesn’t hurt your SEO 🙂

Translation Documentation

While developing a China focused community strategy for one of my previous employers I came across a social media trend in Asia in regards to file sharing.  In the west where English is king we take for granted that we can get the user manual for everything in real time, that all of the documentation needed to do our jobs is right there in perfect, edited English.  With the booming industrializing in Asia, emergence of a strong middle class and trending towards design as much as assembly the need for having this type of documentation is critical to success.

The challenge is that around 90% of a western companies documentation is not translated into the Asian languages.  What has happened is the emergence of the Documentation Translation communities.  They can take different forms.  In some cases the users sell translated documents for a price, in others they charge to translate on a request basis but a lot of the translation is done using virtual currency which is halfway between gamification and real money.  An example of this is http://download.eccn.com/ where electrical engineers can post and share translated docs.

Integration and the Cloud

A trend I am seeing of late is the conjunction of social media and file sharing into single platform experiences.  What started with Sharepoint has now turned into cloud based programs like BOX.  Most of the major community platforms are now offering integration with these services.  I can see the future of file sharing and community being here.  Imagine a situation where you can effectively tie your cloud files (every file you own) to your social presence.  With a single click you can share that file with a person or the whole community.  Write an update? the file automatically updates on the forum post or private message too.  I think we are just seeing the start of where real file sharing and community are coming together.

In our next blog post we’ll talk specifically about video (which is another passion of mine) and talk about ways of bringing it in and making it apart of your community strategy.