Content-centric Communities - Building Emotional Connections Through Content

Reflections on the South by Southwest Interactive conference (SxSWi) and the importance of emotional connections in various fields, including web development and content creation.

by Ben Allums
March 19, 2009

I've just returned to life at after spending the past five days taking in SxSW Interactive. SxSW Interactive brings together an eclectic mix of doers, thinkers, and users. How many conferences have you experienced where the attendees and presenters include Sci-Fi authors, journalists, psychiatrists, psychologists, marketers, designers, coders, and gamers? People were as likely to talk about coding websites with Ruby on Rails as they were to opine the death of newspapers in the Age of Twitter.

Looking back, I came away from SxSWi understanding that everyone attending was on a quest to create emotional connections. More than a few vendors present were literally banking on this fact. People want to feel connected. People want community.

Most would say “Ben, that's rather obvious.” My wife Kavita is one of “those people”. But I think there are others like me who have a little trouble “getting it”. We focus first on content and meaning, not tears and empathy.

So how did I become an apostle of emotional connectedness at SxSW Interactive?

It started in a session on The Ecosystem of News. Dry stuff, right? No! Not if you consider that we are witnessing the migration of news reporting away from organizations and toward regular people. Regular people, whose shared interests and experiences will provide insight and excitement beyond what a non-specialized journalist could ever accomplish. Regular people will be better reporters because they care about their subject. Stories will be judged less on grammar and more on heart. This idea that emotion matters more than anything continued as I moved on to a session titled Microformats: A Quiet Revolution. Microformats? Yep. A simple extension to HTML markup that enables you to leave a bit of yourself on the web. So that someone can find you. So that someone can connect with you.

Still not seeing it?

Okay, then take the design and marketing sessions. Brand Noir: Crafting a Who-Why-How Dunnit talked about the mechanics of branding, identity, etc. Lots of detail, lots of big company names and budgets. Yet the take away was this…

Have an emotional impact on people.

Don't believe that is important? Then give Designing for Irrational Behavior panelist Peter Whybrow'sAmerican Mania” a read. Finally, try experiencing the ultimate dichotomy, Designers and Developers: Why Can't We All Just Get Along? Hearing the panelists discuss their shared struggle to create greatness enabled me to express the conundrum:

Developers wish their creations to be complete. Designers wish their creations to have emotional impact.

Emotion versus Completion. Even I “get” who the winner is here. Seeing this contrast so clearly was a huge breakthrough for me. I'm a developer. Completion is what I'm all about. But someone like me isn't going to build a service like Twitter. Someone like me isn't going to build a bookmarking site like the old Ma.gnolia. Why would I? They are incomplete. They focus on “flash” over “substance”.

They connect with people emotionally.

We need to use ePublisher as a means to connect people emotionally. To build communities.

Don't think that's possible?

Then check out what Andrew (@avanconas) has been doing in his Web 2.0 and ePublisher webinars. Think about how you can connect your documentation to wikis for feedback, your blogs for insight, and your Twitter accounts via RSS for up to the minute information.

Now imagine using all of those tools and your deliverables to build a community. A community that connects like minds through the shared interest of your content.

Let's go create passionate communities. Clicking “Publish” is all it takes to get started.

Further Reading