Talent Communities, Talent Networks And Stack Overflow Reviewed

In the music industry, few bands attract real fan boys and girls. A cult like following of people just waiting around each day for a proclamation from the chosen ones. The majority could loosely be described as followers. A following who quite like the band but aren’t scouring the news for the next release. If they hear of the next release they will probably download it, but they are not visiting fan pages or websites every day in the hope of the next announcement or the next snippet of news. They don’t want to know all the news, gossip, but they are pleased when they come across the news of the latest release.
In the sports arenas where people are genuinely labeled as fans but he number of actual paying, participating fans compared with the population as a whole is quite small. Theres a much bigger group who would describe themselves as fans but actually fit the follower category. They have an affection for the team in question. They look for the results in the papers and might watch them and cheer when they are on TV, but that really is as far as it goes. Most people are by nature passive followers. Not emotionally attached enough to make a commitment to do something on a regular basis, but enthusiastic enough to take a look when something comes across their path. They will always read a post that involves their team or band if it comes across their stream, but they won’t be desperately waiting on it. This is why sports teams and the music business have taken to social media, because they can get in front of the passive followers and connect with them, in the hope that repeated connections will result in them forming more of an attachment, perhaps becoming fans or customers. It makes commercial sense to be where you might get noticed by the vaguely interested.
In the recruiting markets I don’t think things are dissimilar. Most people are not looking for a job. They don’t want to visit in talent communities which require their effort or participation. They come to content and opportunities as the vaguely interested, often driven purely by noseyness, to see how the other half live. That really is the benefit of having conversations about work in public places, someone might just hear or see enough to want to go a bit further and look under the surface. At the looking stage they are going to mostly passive. Not announcing they are there, but wanting to poke around and see a bit more. This is why I’m not convinced about many of the talent communities which employers have tried to set up.

I don’t think the majority of people you want to hire are actually interested in actively engaging with an employer on a regular basis, other than when they are actually looking for a job, and then they don’t want to talk about specifics in a public place. What you need to be offering is much more than just job or employer content, and that’s my main reservation about what are company managed and hosted talent communities. What best suits most companies are not talent communities but talent networks. Talent networks enable people to sign up for relevant updates, jobs etc. Technology like Find.ly  and TribePad allow people to sign up in all their social and web places with one click. The technology uses data from social profiles particularly LinkedIn to tag them and create lists for sending relevant jobs and content. it keeps people in touch with opportunities without flooding them with every job that comes up.

I’m also more enthusiastic about skill communities that have a very different focus to job seeking. I like the way BraveNewTalent tag people and employers by skills, and enable them to communicate. The platform has a way to go yet, but I think it is the beginning of something interesting, and will be watching closely what skills (not jobs) based content emerges, and how those with similar skill sets connect. If the team at BNT can develop more features around knowledge exchange and advice that go beyond job search and careers.

The platform that has got this right in my opinion is Stack Overflow, the site for programmers. What I like about Stack Overflow is that its primary purpose is not recruiting or careers. The jobs and careers aspect is an add on for members for the community as and when or if they want to use it. The main purpose is to connect programmers to ask and answer questions about programming. Because of the technical nature of the questions and answers, there’s not likely to be anyone other than programmers actively involved because we wouldn’t understand a word of the content.It’s also a public platform, not owned by one employer. Stack Overflow is free for users, and is accessible via a dedicated platform or Facebook application. Sign in and sign up is by social profile.  Stackoverflow is part of the Stack Exchange family of Q and A communities. There are over 85 sites in total with 1.7mn users, 3.5mn questions and 7.2mn answers. All the sites are community based and free to users, ranging from topics like cooking and gaming through to real talent communities like game development, Unix and Linus, WordPress, Drupal and the lead platform Stackoverflow. I think it is this approach to community and community features first with a clearly defined purpose, with any recruiting or jobseeking as a secondary option that makes these platforms stand out as some of the few genuine communities.

Stack overflow explain their purpose and function in this way:

Stack Overflow is a programming Q & A site that’s free. Free to ask questions, free to answer questions, free to read, free to index, built with plain old HTML, no fake rot13 text on the home page, no scammy google-cloaking tactics, no salespeople, no JavaScript windows dropping down in front of the answer asking for $12.95 to go away. You can register if you want to collect karma and win valuable flair that will appear next to your name, but otherwise, it’s just free. And fast. Very, very fast.

We don’t run Stack Overflow. You do. Stack Overflow is collaboratively built and maintained by your fellow programmers. Once the system learns to trust you, you’ll be able to edit anything, much like Wikipedia. With your help, we can build good answers to every imaginable programming question together. No matter what programming language you use, or what operating system you call home – better programming is our goal.

Members of the community post questions and other members answer them. Users rank the answers, which earns reputation points, so there is a big emphasis on peer-to-peer rankings, and the rankings are based on the answers. Users with high reputation points are the “stars” of the community. Questions are tagged, so it is easy to search questions or answers by tag.

Theres a chat area, where anyone can set up live chats and send out invites to others who share the same expertise. To take part in chats you need to have earned 20 reputation points before taking part. This makes it easy to see the expertise of contributors. It also means members don’t have to wait around for answers when they need a few ideas.

The more you use the site, the more intuitive it becomes, offering questions you might find interesting based on your tag preferences by choice, or the tags of questions you’ve answered previously or looked at in the past. Other tabs are featured questions, hot questions and the most popular by week or month.

The platform plays to the ego of users, with gaming features like the leader boards and badges. In the right environment, where badges and league tables mean something have real value, based on peer recognition, it’s an important community aspect. It’s a way users can recognize other users, and individuals can promote  their own expertise while adding real value to the community by sharing their knowledge. The community is also self-policing, with moderators elected by the users, and gaining extra recognition. For me, it’s a perfect talented community, operated by the members, for the members, on a simple to use technology program. Theres a reason to be there other than looking for a job or careers.

This is taken from the Moderators section of Stackoverflow:

Stackoverflow is run by you! If you want to help us run Stack Overflow, you’ll need reputation first. Reputation is a (very) rough measurement of how much the Stack Overflow community trusts you. Reputation is never given, it is earned by convincing other Stackoverflow users that you know what you’re talking about.

The users of the platform are all involved in the moderation process, with greater moderation points earnt by reputation as follows:

  • Users with 15 rep can flag posts.
  • Users with 500 rep can retag questions.
  • Users with 2,000 rep can edit any question or answer in the system.
  • Users with 3,000 rep can cast close and open votes.
  • Users with 10,000 rep can cast delete and undelete votes on questions, and have access to a moderation dashboard.
  • Users with 15,000 rep can protect posts.
  • Users with 20,000 rep can cast delete votes on negatively voted answers.
I see this as being another feature that marks Stack overflow down as a real community in that the rules and policing are determined by the community members themselves, and elected by contribution and reputation. positions of authority are earned  rather than being self-appointed. The moderators are described as human exception handlers. I like that expression.

At the side of the main screen, there is the option to enter the careers area. The Careers 2.0 section is an optional section of the platform rather than its main purpose, which is the exchange of knowledge and advice driven by user requests.  Users can create a profile either to apply for jobs advertised in the job board section, or matched jobs sent by employers. The bit I really like is that not everyone gets a profile.they are available by invite only. According to the site:

“Stackoverflow grants new invites to users fitting certain criteria of activity on Stack Exchange sites, including reputation. Participate more, ask good questions, and give good answers. You never know what might appear in your inbox.”

Effectively, members of the platform determine you are worthy of a profile. Thats got to make for a better place to source from than an open platform, and another community recognition feature. You want to use the site to get hired, then you are going to have to get involved. When you get a profile invite, you can populate the profile using your LinkedIn data with one click. Quick and easy. As you answer questions, these are rated by the questioner and other members, and these rankings, tags and comments on expertise are added to the profile, enabling companies to see how peers rank the expertise of their potential employees. Thats got to be great information for anyone looking to recruit the best talent in to their organisation.

Members and users of the site are kept up to date in the meta stack overflow area, which is a site designed for posts on bugs,features and discussions around the platform.

The careers area includes a job board which is easy to navigate, and laid out in the same way as the rest of the site for familiarity. Visitors can search for jobs by keyword, job title, location, employer, telecommuting only or distance from home. Theres also featured employers on the home page who have paid to be listed. Jobs include the same tagging as the Q & A section. For the benefit of users, advertising companies include a “Joel Score.” The Joel Score is a 12 question questionnaire that gives the software team at the employing company a score between 1 – 12 based on the number of yes answers they give. It’s not scientific but it is quick to complete and gives potential candidates a comparison between employers.

The Joel Test

  1. Do you use source control?
  2. Can you make a build in one step?
  3. Do you make daily builds?
  4. Do you have a bug database?
  5. Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
  6. Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
  7. Do you have a spec?
  8. Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
  9. Do you use the best tools money can buy?
  10. Do you have testers?
  11. Do new candidates write code during their interview?
  12. Do you do hallway usability testing?

The apply button takes you to a screen that surprisingly asks for your personal detail like e-mail and phone number, and space to write a cover letter. Stackoverflow explain this by the fact that they do not want to make applying too easy, and applications to be personalised, as they would be through traditional means. Next is CV upload, and a check screen to review how your application is going to look before sending it. For candidates without a CV, there’s a neat feature that converts the user’s profile in to a C.V.with the option to add free text.

Stackoverflow has over 15million monthly users from around the world. This has to make them the biggest collection of programmers on a single platform anywhere.Prices to advertise start from $350 to list a job for 30 days with a featured job function which highlights the job and raises search rankings, costing an additional $250 a month. Top spot which keeps the ad near the top of the listings for an additional $900 and brings an average of 4 x more click-throughs a month, and spotlight, which features the hiring company logo and description on the home page users log in to, and the job board page with price on application starting at an additional $600. Given the number of active users of the platform, it has to be a serious consideration if you are looking to reach a targeted audience.

For recruiters looking to be more proactive, there’s a profile search available by subscription. User profiles are only available to those with 15 or more rep points, awarded by other users. The members with profiles have the option to mark their profiles as active jobseekers, meaning they are open to approaches from employers, passive jobseekers denoting that they are open to occasional messages. Messages come to the selected member through the platform and elect if they want to receive the message and make contact.

The search is organised by:

> Skills (any of or all of.)

> Location (and a within bar) with the option to include candidates seeking relocation.

> Employment type with options to include full-time, temporary, telecommute or internship.

> Candidate type with options for all, active or passive.

Results come back showing profiles that match by profile and on a data map (overlaid on Google maps.), as well as data graphs that show:

> Top Technologies

> Demographics by active and passive, student and non-student, relocate and not relocate’

The profiles from the search display the following data:

> Name, location, web address and twitter name

> Summary of career interests

> Technologies displayed as tags by likes and dislikes

> Experience including work history, tags and summary

> Education including tags

> Stack Exchange network accounts including reputation points in each

> Open source data

> Tools by first computer and favourite editor

> Background including projects and links

Recruiters can access the additional information behind the reputation points and Stack overflow and their interaction with the site. The data is displayed by:

> Bio including name, title, website, location, age, summary and twitter name.

> Picture and reputation points

> Answers – access to all answers given on the platform and reputation points awarded

> Questions asked by votes received, activity and newest.

> Tags attached to answers

> Accounts held with the stack exchange platform.

> Badges awarded by peers like “Nice Answer” and “Disciplined.”

> Active bounties (Bounties are traded reputation points, only available to users with 75 or more reputation points. This positions a question as a featured post for 7 days, making it stand out by position and visually. I really like the concept of trusted and rated users being able to promote those questions they want answers to, as well as raising their ranking by interaction with other members.)

> Votes cast (Users can vote questions and answers up and down.)

Users have the option to keep profiles private, viewable by invitation only. Public profiles have a vanity URL that can be listed anywhere for external access or linking. The members have the choice and control over how their data gets viewed and by who, privacy obviously being a key concern to many potential users. There are over 50,000 live profiles on the site with 4.9,000 in the U.K. Whilst the numbers are quite small compared with LinkedIn, it is a focussed community with user’s knowledge ranked by their peers. A peer ranking of knowledge has to be far more valuable than a solicited recommendation in my opinion.

I’ve gone in to a lot of detail looking at all the features of Stack overflow and Stack exchange because I see it as one of the few real talent communities on the web. There also taking the communities off-line through a series of meetups across the globe aimed at bringing the members and users closer together in person by location. I’m confident that this initiative will take off and build the platform.

The key features of Stack overflow, in my opinion make it the perfect blueprint for any talent community. If your planning on going down this route, take a good look at the platform for a few ideas.