So we decided to set up a website for the building’s tenants to discuss things, make plans, share projects, offer work or things for sale… whatever seemed relevant. The logical choice was to set up forum software and make it look somewhat attractive, which we did. The problem is that there is a non-trivial number of steps actually required to get people to use a resource like that.

First, you have to hear about it. This wasn’t too hard, since the domain name was simple enough, but many people just didn’t notice. Then you have to get an account, a process that takes longer than it should, and requires checking your email, clicking a link, remembering a password, and all the other mental overhead that goes along with registering for a website.

All this is very discouraging for people who might be tempted to participate. And it starts with a “blank slate,” so it’s kind of like you’re talking to yourself. And you have to set up “topics” and “sections” and all that, forcing people to think about what “topic” or “section” their message might be relevant to.

Long story short: after well over one year, we had not much more than a dozen users. It was pretty much a dead zone. I stopped telling people about it; I even stopped checking it myself. I started feeling like I was just waiting around for spammers to stumble across it and give me an excuse to delete it. Pretty depressing.

About a week ago, I decided it was time to scrap that site and start from scratch. Instead of complex and feature-rich and robust… what is the simplest possible thing that would work?

The answer: Twitter. Last week I hung two signs at either end of the building suggesting that tenants post a message on Twitter containing the #omcc “hash tag.” In order to see all messages with that tag, all one has do do is search Twitter. In fact, I made the old website simply redirect to Twitter’s search results page.

Did it work? In one week’s time, we’ve had about fifty people post just such a message, and some lively discussions and ideas have already come about. We’re hosting a party in our office this afternoon, and we’re spreading the word by Twitter alone. When someone has something to sell or give away, they send a tweet. When they need help or just want to chat about the building, they send a tweet.

It’s not perfect, but its strength is definitely its simplicity. A lot of folks were already on Twitter, so this was second nature to them. A few joined just to chat in a group. It’s so fast and simple I find myself checking the group messages before coming in to work, and after leaving for the day.

You never know when that awesome parking space will open up.

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