Is Menshn a Twitter rival or just an old-fashioned chatroom?
Menshn, the new social media site from UK politician Louise Mensch, launched in the UK today. The site was set up as a “topic-based Twitter” and launched in the UK to take advantage of tonight’s Euro 2012 match between England and Italy. We know that Twitter has launched its own curated page for the latter stages of the tornament and the volume of discussions in social media is expected to be high. Timing the launch alongside this big event for Twitter has only heightened comparisons between the two sites. But is this true?
What is Menshn? It has been touted as a a Twitter rival for serious conversation. And it certainly shares some similarities – the micro-blogging format (although with an extra 40 characters to play with), the ability to message and mention others. But Menshn is fundamentally quite different. Whilst Twitter allows me to discuss an anything with anybody (or indeed with nobody). Menshn forces me to choose a topic before I can say something. By joining these ‘rooms’, as they are called, I am discussing a predetermined topic with a self-selecting group of people. The potential things I can talk about is quite restricted and if I say something in one room others do not necessarily see it.
To me, Menshn is less like Twitter and more like an old-fashioned chatroom or forum. This is a very different kind of space and so to succeed will need to overcome different challenges than Twitter ever has.
Rather than allowing people to discover their friends and others they might want to connect with, Menshn forces you to choose a pre-determined room. An existing community where people engage with others who have a similar passion, interest or concern. This is a classic online community and the way people act towards and interact with each other in this kind of space is critical to its success.
With Twitter, people just find others they might be interested in, start following them and reading their status updates and from time to time interact with them. Things are different in an online community – I don’t need to know or follow people, I just need to be in the same space as them talking about the same things. This is good on one hand – it allows you to quickly find conversations you are interested in. But it also presents significant challenges – notably that these spaces can quickly become close-knit communities that are difficult for others to join. Communities need to be inclusive to grow – they need to welcome new people and to allow people to dip in and out of the conversation. The success of Menshn will depend on this.
As with any good chatroom or forum the first few weeks are important. Launching the site to a select group of people first would help to set the tone, and growing these people as champions of their respective rooms would mean they have an interest in welcoming new people and growing a welcoming space for debate. The danger is that without such a planned seeding programme, the first few people in the room will set the tone and make them difficult places for others to enter.
The success of Menshn relies on solid community management skills, working with key members and having clear rules for people to follow. This is very different to Twitter, but rather is a site, and an experience we have had for many many years in chatrooms and forums online.