I love Sugar. I love Fast Company, the magazine. I read FC more often. Both are great media companies for different reasons. Sugar has developed a broad network of different web properties delivering content from celebrity to fashion. They have always been a digital brand. Fast Company has always been a great magazine and is one of main 3 business reads.
Sugar just launched OnSugar - a simple blogging platform within their network that allows anyone who wants to to establish a blog. Fast Company has had similar functionality for a while now wrapped inside an overly complex social network model complete with profiles.
For these media properties the benefits are clear:
- Create a bond between "reader" and the property that keeps us coming back routinely and becoming word fo mouth ambassadors for the brand
- Build in a content creation mechanism that is scaleable because the content comes from "volunteers" aka site members
It begs the question of what the benefit to the member is.
The blogging platform is easy-to-use and based upon drupal. Ease-of-use is more like green-fees than a USP. The key feature benefits seem to be access to free imagery via a deal with Corbis and access to product imagery. That latter feature is another potential bonanza for SUGAR as users start publishing and sharing pictures of Juicy Couture hoodies or JCrew khakis. But is that a truly great deal for potential bloggers. I could go on but...I cannot go on as all of the other features are standards for blogging platforms. Oh, it's free. As are many platforms out there.
Is that enough to make a lot of people want to take up residence within the Sugar walls? (Did I just say that?) Blogging platforms and social networks inside media properties may not be walled gardens but there surely is one of those knee-high fences that make it awkward to get in and out. And how will your OnSUGAR blog do in search engines?
This model seems to cater to those who would be casual bloggers. Maybe you want to jot down a few thoughts every once in a while or upload a video. That kind of light-hearted approach is fine but may not lead to a vibrant "community" nor much worthy content to pull into the main sites.
And what does it have to do with TeamSUGAR, the social network with the SUGAR world? There are blogs there as well. This is confusing.
Which is a great segue to FastCompany.com
FC launched a social network like thing about a year ago. I joined up immediately. Like I said, I love the magazine and the chance to be a part of it seemed great. My hope was that I could connect my very active blog to their network and build a strong audience. The FC site has a lot of functionality. I can start a blog, upload multimedia, connect with other members - sort of, save lists like events. I do not seem to have a public profile like most socnets but merely this custom homepage which you will not likely see upon clicking through.
Seems like a lot of stuff but there are two big problems:
- It is all walled garden-activity using their platform. This requires me to want to do all the things I already do inside the Fast Company socnet. While I love FC, my life is bigger than that. I would guess that is true of many of their fans.
- Second problem is user experience. I am sorry but the place is a mess. Try connecting to other members and you will be forced to browse through meta-topic lists that make sense to their editorial board but are not specific enough for most of us AND the names are not organized in any recognizable or accessible way.
I would presume that I would join FC for the "Company" - the other people in business like me who dig the culture of the brand. Or the opportuntiy to be embraced by the brand by having my content featured. Can't happen.
Can it work?
Can media properties successfully integrate social media and social networks in such a way as to build a bond that is actually useful to their "formerly-known-as-readers?" In the age of lifestreaming, is building a new blogging platform or a closed social network really the way to go?
I love these brands and applaud them for trying but I don't think they have found teh right solution yet...