Spiceworks - Make IT Social (2011)
I started Spiceworks in 2010 as a UX/UI Developer. Spiceworks provides help desk, network monitoring, and purchasing tools for IT professionals, and marries those with an online community to glue IT all together (can't help myself—we used a lot of IT puns).
Not long after I started I was told to “make the community more social.” That was the depth of the task description. The business benefit of a more social and active community is that it becomes a more valuable place for partners/vendors to advertise and engage, increasing revenue. To get to that business benefit, we needed to change user behavior. Some of those changes would be number of pages viewed, groups and topics interested in keeping up with, and desire to come back into Spiceworks regularly. Given this business benefit and related behavioral goals, I started defining how we'd go about changing the community to encourage those behaviors.
I led a group who interviewed users, and asked them what they wanted in a community and how they could feel more connected. We found that people saw the community as a way to show who you are in IT—a representation of the work you do in your daily jobs, what knowledge you have of technologies and issues, and a bit of who you know.
So we focused on a few improvements in the community over the following 9 months:
- Encourage people to follow other people, groups/topics, and vendors they are interested in
- Show recent activity from the items a person follows, so they can keep up with what's going on in the community and help others in need of their expertise
- Refocus member profiles on community involvement and what connections the person has, to build their IT identity, and areas of interest—almost like an IT resume
For this project, I did user research, managed our implementation work, designed the UX, implemented the UI and most backend pieces (Ruby on Rails), and built out behavior tracking needed to measure key success metrics. I iterated through a few approaches, running the ideas by users and showing them Balsamiq wireframe prototypes.
The following are the major parts we updated to move toward this more social and connected feel.
Personalized Feed on the Homepage
Before this feed, the homepage in Spiceworks was more of a list of recent conversations and groups in the community. It was essentially the same for everyone, and it was not widely used except to get to the group or thread you came into the community to get to.
We replaced much of the page with a personalized feed filled with content each member could personalize by following topics they cared most about, community members with whom they wanted to keep in touch or who were active in similar issues, and vendors which might provide announcements and product release information.
We also added a few supplementary sections around the feed.
- Subscribed Topics was an existing feature in the community that we decided to integrate into the feed as another way to stay on top of things you've recently participated in.
- Suggested and Popular Content were geared toward widening people's interests with things a lot of other people are into.
- Top Contributors Today gave people a goal to aspire to :).
- You're Following reinforced that what you follow is what builds your feed, and each linked to lists where you could view or manage your followed items.
Focus on Personal Profiles
For profiles, we wanted to show off who this person was in the community. We focused first on the contributions of this person in topics in the community, showing a lot of what this person cares about and what they know, and putting pressure on people to contribute and fill up that first page with their activity. The second focus was to bubble up what this person is following and who is following this person. Both of these were meant to encourage participation and making connections.
Although profiles existed previously, they were unorganized, focused more on graphs of usage and involvement, and badges. The new profile maintained many of those areas, but made it more of a destination and better sense of how they identified themselves as IT people (from our customer research).
Personalized Sidebar Feed
We also began personalizing the right sidebar feed that shows up everywhere in the community. Spiceworks already had content there, but it was split into tabs and it was the same for everyone. I simplified that feed to one personalized list based on things the IT person is following. The theory was that personalized content would draw people into the sidebar more often where valuable ad placement and clicks directly affected revenue.
In the wake of the initial release, top contributors started talking more about who they were following and trying to be followed, how many topics and pages they followed, and how they looked to other members through their profile. Follows were up overall in the community, but more for people following other people.
Profiles have gone through a significant change since this implementation in 2011, focusing more now on projects people have completed as a conduit to learning about who they are and showing off for an even more resume-like display, but this original change was a first step toward a more social, person-focused community.
The personalized homepage feed was a little more difficult to get an immediate sense of how successful it was at increasing social interaction. We did track how far people scrolled on the feed and how often they clicked on items, and at the time, the initial results were positive. I am no longer at the company, so my knowledge of its effect cannot be verified, but it remains as the anchor of the community experience, and is largely unchanged, even 5 years later. Spiceworks has grown continually since my departure, so my assumption is it's been an overall success :)
The item with the most immediate impact was the personalized sidebar feed.
The more focus on the sidebar and the more pageviews resulting from people spending more time in the community, the more valuable ad properties became in Spiceworks.