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    • Back when I first jotted some thoughts upon A First Taste of Cake, I concluded that I might crosspost some writing here as I moved away from G+ and toward other platforms. I haven't done that for a few reasons, though, even though I poke my head in here pretty frequently. Rather than just leave my timeline here looking halfheartedly abandoned, I thought I would drop by again to reflect on why I'm posting elsewhere these days, as much as I really want to love this service.

      Personal writing isn't usually discussion-worthy. Between Twitter, Mastodon, Google+, and now my own WordPress gaming blog, I have plenty of places to post online. If I'm to be honest with myself, though, I am often just thinking aloud into the void, sharing personal thoughts and observations, and finding myself pleasantly surprised to get a response from family, friends, and would-be friends. That's fine, though—I don't think this kind of thing is what Cake is meant to do. Cake is about discussions.

      When I want to discuss something, I post where enthusiasts will find it. Sometimes I do want to get a conversation going, or see what others are talking about—I want help making a decision, I need feedback on a project, I'd like to get some context about the news, or I want to share something thought-provoking and see what further thoughts responses to it might provoke, and so on. In these cases, I am looking for knowledgeable people, for people I like and personally trust, or for both. Most of the time, those conversations will be about my professional interests (user research, UX design, communications theory, etc.) or my personal interests (games, genre fiction, local events, etc.). I already know where there are active, safe online communities for those things where I'll get good responses.

      Cake is not one of those places, at least not yet. There's no "UX" topic here at all, and the "Design" and "Games" topics haven't seen posts in weeks. Most posts I come across on Cake are about Cake itself, which isn't very reassuring. (And I contributed to that proportion myself.) I'm not finding the conversations I want, and starting a conversation seems like a waste of time when I know I could get high-quality responses elsewhere immediately. Reddit, the main service I've seen Cake compared to in contrast to Google+, is not one of those places, either, even though I know there are plenty of gamers there. I poke my head in sometimes, but the quality of discussion is uneven, and personal safety doesn't feel like a given. Maybe Cake could be a "better Reddit," but people have to come here first.

      Attracting new users takes work. Taken together, these points suggest a chicken-and-egg problem: The emphasis on discussion suggests that it's really only worth putting in the extra effort to post about my interests if there's somebody else here to discuss them with, but nobody's going to come here to discuss my interests until people start posting about them. Getting those people here and posting will take work. Getting users to do that work themselves likely requires either rewarding users somehow, or making it not feel like work (the way generating content on for-profit platforms is itself technically a kind of work that we don't mind doing).

      I imagine that Cake may already be doing that work themselves, and somehow getting some users to do that work too, but in ways I can't see. Maybe they already enticed a bunch of opinion leaders to post in topics I don't follow, and those people will gradually draw in their whole networks. (Getting those networks to stay will be easier to do, I expect, once there's some kind of feature guarantees you'll see the posts of the folks who brought you over here.) And to be honest, it's no fault of Cake's that I can't yet see the work they're doing. The topics that interest me—a bunch of niche hobbyist communities with a justified reputation for exclusion, and some professional communities that update their buzz-wordy names every few years—may not be smart ones for Cake to focus on right now. Still, I can't help but be curious what's going on behind the scenes to actually get folks in the door here.

      I'll probably still poke my head in from time to time. This place shows a lot of promise. But suspect I'm not really the kind of user Cake needs to cater to right now, and (maybe weirdly) hoping that that's a smart and purposeful call on their part.

    • That is a nice honest response. It is challenging in a new place. Doesn't quite feel like the legs are securely under the cake tray yet.

      It has hope that is certain.

      Investment in that is of course a very personal matter.

      I swing back and forth, some great new stuff in a small crowd that is interesting.

      Then the "look at me" posts and single more spam like "what do you think of this and look at my blog, etc. for more". + The single picture drops or micro-effort title's and pose a question without much if any context. Those are frustrating and add noise to the intended purpose in my opinion.

      There does seem to be a few "special" folks, almost instant "featured" mini celebrity complex with the need to produce content that falls a little short or feels rushed to me.

      Yet there are some really wonderful stories and pictures where people have taken the time and passion to share and that is lovely.

      Time will tell...

    • Most posts I come across on Cake are about Cake itself, which isn't very reassuring. (And I contributed to that proportion myself.)

      I completely 2999% respectfully disagree.

      Most of the conversations and posts that I’ve noticed over the past six weeks that I’ve been here have been on everything but Cake. There’s a 50+ long thread that @Chris started over the weekend on disinformation and @vegasphotog just started an interesting conversation on the ways you could end up dead in Medieval Times.

      Conversation starting involves taking risks. I started one on solving a math problem(!) and it resulted in a great conversation that veered into preconceptions and mental shortcuts that we use to navigate life. I’ve started multiple conversations on the writing process that have all fizzled and died. That’s the joy and the challenge of Cake.

      Take a risk, invest some of your time and stay awhile.

    • @JasonT This was super insightful, and completely nails the problem of getting something like Cake off the ground. For Cake to become something more people want to use, we need to first get more people using Cake.

      There's no magic solution for this, though, and there's only so much Cake itself can do to solve this problem. Ultimately Cake's success or failure is in the hands of its users.

      One thing that would help immensely is for people to start conversations on Cake and share them outside of Cake.

      Don't worry too much about whether there are enough people on Cake who will find your conversation. Instead, think about how you can help people who aren't yet on Cake find your conversation, just like you might help people who don't yet read your blog find the content you post there. Link to your Cake conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere and invite people to participate.

      Unlike a lot of social networks, when you post something on Cake, the entire Internet can see it and our goal is to make sure your posts look great, load quickly, and are never hidden behind a signup wall. When you post on Cake, the Internet is your audience.

    • I'm not sure how you can respectfully disagree about "most posts I come across." 😉 Part of what's tricky here is that I ma not interested in digging for conversations unrelated to my specific interests—my M.O. is to just hit the front page and only click if something jumps out at me from my feed. Since the only topic I followed that ever sees any posts is "Cake Feedback," I've ended up seeing not much more than Cake Feedback. I don't doubt that there are other conversations going on, and that they are great conversations, but they're just not what I came here for—which is why this post concludes with an admission that maybe my particular use case isn't the one Cake should be shooting for, and that's not necessarily Cake's problem to worry about.

      When you describe "the joy and challenge of Cake," and getting the most out of it as "a risk" that requires me to "invest," that's precisely what I meant when I described this as work. (But I do appreciate the warm welcome and encouragement. 🙂) I have high hopes for Cake, but—and please forgive me for my bluntness—I'm not invested enough to put in uncompensated labor for a for-profit service. I have work and hobbies already, and would love to leverage Cake to engage with those in new and interesting ways, but "finding interesting conversations unrelated to my hobbies" and "trying to help Cake succeed" would be new work/hobbies that I'm not really able to commit to right now. I hope that makes sense ... and doesn't sound too obnoxious. 😬

    • I don’t think you’re obnoxious, just passionate about your point of view. 🙂

      It seems as if we’re coming to Cake with diametrically opposed end goals. I joined Cake because I’m a bit of a polymath who got frustrated with Twitter’s narrowcasting, which limited my productive and enjoyable conversations to mathematics. The breadth and depth of conversations here is a welcome change. Although I do have topics I follow, the greatest features are the Featured and All threads because they surprise me with conversations that I didn’t even know that I’d be interested in. Who knew Medieval deaths would be so fascinating?

      Clearly you want none of that and are only looking for people who share specific interests.

    • Thanks, Jason. Not obnoxious, just really important for us to solve. I've grown some other communities and they can be agonizingly slow in the beginning until they get critical mass and usually we have to generate a lot of the content in the beginning.

      My hypothesis is that during the onboarding process when new people have a chance to choose topics to follow, they are drawn to the narrowcast ones because they want good signal to noise. It feels cool to follow something very specific, but then after you do in the early days of Cake, you don't see much in your feed. If you choose broader topics like Technology, you see more.

      I suspect that the people who are finding interesting conversations are selecting the All option on their feeds, like @apm is doing. Then serendipity sets in.

      I used to work in the book industry and when customers would enter a store like Borders they would want to know where a specific section was. But booksellers would make you walk past tables of interesting books as you entered that might catch your eye. The publishers clamored to be on those tables because it turned out to be a great way to discover books like Into Thin Air that you didn't know you were looking for. That's kindof like our Featured and All feeds.

      Tell me if I'm wrong, but I think what we're seeing is a real desire for Cake when we solve the critical mass problem, no?

    • Thank you for the compliment, and I agree that users can indeed do a lot to boost Cake exactly as you suggest. I'm just not likely to do that right now.

      That probably sounds ... ah, "blunt" at best, or "like I'm an a-hole" depending on how it comes across, but I'm genuinely hoping to be helpful by being sincere here. I'll try to explain.

      So, yes, absolutely, getting users to draw in other users is key. The trick, I think, is that framing it in terms of "think about how you can help" is expecting your users to perform free labor for you. It takes work to brainstorm about how I would help a for-profit company. It takes a modicum of additional effort to go drop those links around all other social networks when I could have just posted to any of those networks in the first place.

      Now, there are a few ways that companies do manage to get their customers to do this kind of work on their behalf:

      1. Encourage a sense of community or subcultural belonging. This one has worked wonders with "geeky" entertainment media for years. (See: Textual Poachers, comics fans going out of their way to support favorite books and creators, or, I guess, chapter 5 of my dissertation, with apologies for how verbose it is ... but you probably could've predicted that from my posts here.) This doesn't just have to be a sense of community with the company itself, though, especially when we're talking about a social site. You folks at Cake are super nice, and I like you personally! I don't have a deep emotional connection to anything created here yet, though (like fans have with their favorite comics/shows/movies/whatever), and I have yet to find a community I recognize and belong to here. Absent these things, I am not quite personally invested yet. In contrast, I've been frustrated with some creative and marketing decisions Marvel and DC have made in recent years, but I love their characters, and their stories are cultural touchstones for communities I belong to, so I keep watching their movies and shows. And I kind of hate Twitter as a company, but it hosts too many communities I feel connected to for me to walk away from its service right now.

      But of course this is the point we started at—it's a lot easier to get users to do promote your thing when you already have plenty of users. So, next thing....

      2. Build a sense of shared ownership. As you say, I already think about how I'm going to promote my blog, but I'll do that work for a post on my own blog because I feel like it's mine—I can track analytics on it, I could monetize it eventually if I wanted, I could export it from WordPress.com and re-import it onto some other host. But I'm not really inclined to put in that extra effort for Cake because right now, to me, it's a cool feature set with a friendly and responsive team who I want to succeed—but I don't own this space, and I am well aware that it is a for-profit service. (This can cut both ways, though; again, see Textual Poachers, and note the example of Star Wars fans feeling like they have more ownership over the films than Disney/Lucasfilm.)

      I am not sure offhand how to encourage this in a positive way (and doing the research to figure it out would be the point where this transitions from "I have some thoughts I hope you'll find interesting and helpful" into "let's discuss my hourly rate"). I do think, though, that you are doing better than average by so openly soliciting user feedback and responding directly to people, which definitely a component in this strategy. It really helps users feel like they have a stake in the product and some say in the direction that it develops. And hell, I guess it's working at least enough to get me to do some "work," because what else do you call writing a thousand words on a weekday?

      Still, I think there's another major thing that could be pursued—maybe already is being pursued, and I just haven't looked deeply enough to see it yet. And that is....

      3. Make it less work for users to promote you. Instead of asking users to think about what they can do to get more users onto Cake, don't make them think. Make it as easy as possible for them to do whatever you want them to do. Give them tools that help you draw in new users and help them accomplish whatever it is they want.

      For instance, I once worked at a mobile game company that was looking to leverage social media to draw in new users. They didn't ask people to talk up the game on Twitter and Facebook—they built a "share" button into the game so that when you get a new high score, you can easily say hell yes I want to brag about this, and their Twitter/Facebook account would immediately blast that high score (and a link to the game, of course) to all their followers.

      Writing about this just reminded me that I could probably do exactly this with WordPress.com. I popped in and linked it to my (doomed) Google+ account in a matter of seconds. Now it'll automatically share everything I blog to my G+ feed, and comments on that G+ post will be comments on the blog post. It still required some work from me in connecting my accounts, but it's less work than it was before. Could've done the same with Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

      To be clear, I'm not saying this specific thing is a thing you need. (Though I will admit that if I could automatically share posts from WordPress.com to Cake, I definitely would, and if I could automatically share posts from Cake to Twitter, I would probably do that too.) Rather, I just mean to say that getting users to do work for Cake will probably require Cake to do some work to make that easier for users. I have to assume you're already doing stuff that could be described that way beyond general quality of life improvements, so I feel like kind of a know-it-all jerk for even writing this ... but I'll hit "reply" anyway because I sincerely hope it helps.

      And hey, neat, I see now that the "Reply" button is visible at the top of my screen still even though I'm scrolled way down. I requested that feature on one of my earlier visits to the site, and now, there it is.

      This is why I'm willing to write a thousand words (and counting) on this site. I am sorry that this does not translate into a willingness to start more conversations here and share them elsewhere ... but I think it could, in time, especially if it were just trivially easier to do so. I would like that.

    • Yeah, pretty much. I do appreciate serendipity, meeting new people, and learning new things, but I'm not inclined to visit a new website with nobody I know on it to satisfy those desires. Just a different set of use cases. And since other sites with use cases I don't much care for are getting by just fine without me (again, see Reddit), that might mean that Cake is doing exactly what it needs to be doing, and that thing just doesn't happen to be for me.

    • Yeah, I definitely want to use and love this site—I'm just starting to think that the moral of all my lengthy posts is "I am not looking for the things Cake does best, and that's okay." 🤔 I came here looking for a G+ replacement, and it took me some time to recognize that it does something else, but it does that thing in a new and interesting way I want to see succeed. So I came here looking to use this new and interesting thing to connect directly to hobbyist communities, and now I am finding that it's better at serendipity (at least for now). And as I admit to @apm, I'm just not looking for serendipity: I like to make a beeline to the section I want in the book store, I find the channel I'm looking for on each news/social site I use, and I want the thing that takes the fewest clicks possible.

      That said, I've certainly bought stuff off those tables in the bookstore, which makes me wonder if I'd be using Cake more if only I bookmarked the "Featured" or "All" tab instead of www.cake.co—"For You" is kind of a ghost town since I unfollowed "Cake Feedback." If your analytics suggest that there are many others like me—dropping by, seeing nothing new under "For You," moving on—that might be helpful to know. But it definitely occurs to me that my experience may be pretty idiosyncratic.

    • All great points. I really appreciate you taking the time to discuss this!

      I agree with everything you've said, but I do want to zoom in and examine in more detail what I think is your central point:

      So, yes, absolutely, getting users to draw in other users is key. The trick, I think, is that framing it in terms of "think about how you can help" is expecting your users to perform free labor for you. It takes work to brainstorm about how I would help a for-profit company. It takes a modicum of additional effort to go drop those links around all other social networks when I could have just posted to any of those networks in the first place.

      You're absolutely right that Cake, a for-profit company (though one — I hasten to add — that has not yet actually generated any profit!), is to a large extent dependent on the good will and free labor of its users to become successful. Especially in these early days when we rely heavily on users to fill Cake with content and to encourage others to use the site.

      But there's also another angle from which to look at this, which is that what we're trying to do with Cake is to provide a service we think the Internet lacks, and which we think could be of great benefit. Moreover, we're trying to do it in a way that allows us to provide the service to users free of charge, because this will benefit the most people.

      Reality dictates that Cake must eventually make money, because Cake's employees must be able to feed and house themselves and because investors expect a return. So this is one of our goals, and an important one, but it's far from our only goal.

      We would certainly never ask users to perform labor solely for Cake's benefit. I believe that would be ethically wrong. But there are ways users can help Cake that will benefit everyone, and that's something I feel can be a fair trade.

      In other words, we build Cake for you, and you help us make Cake successful so we can continue building it for you. 🍻

      As you point out, there are things we can do to make this easier, and we're working on those. And of course we'd never expect anyone to invest time or effort they can't spare. But I can't even begin to tell you how much we appreciate it when users pitch in to help, even just a little bit! It warms our hearts so much and gives us the fuel to keep going even when we've got a ton of hard work ahead of us.

      Even just taking the time to have discussions like this one is a great help in giving us ideas and letting us know what we're doing right or wrong. Thanks. 🙂

    • Oh, of course! I don't mean to sound crass by pointing out the for-profit thing (especially speaking as someone who has worked at for-profit companies for most of his postgraduate life). Truth be told, one of the main reasons I keep coming back here is that I believe you folks have good intentions and want to do right by your users. And I am a big fan of you all getting to eat. 🙂 (But I'll edit this to add that "getting to eat" is a low bar, so I wish you all especially good fortune AND plenty of opportunity to keep building up this place.)

    • I think @JasonT raised an interesting point about starting a conversation when you have no way of knowing if anyone is interested in it. I basically took a straw poll before starting the topic problem solving:

      But is there any plans to make this simpler? Maybe I fill out a brief description of the topic and, if Cake approves the idea, a poll survey shows up on the main page and people vote up and down their interest.

    • Also can someone provide a list of what the 60 emojis mean? I can then take a screen shot or three and refer to it often so I can accurately express my reactions.

      (I don’t use desktop so can’t hover to find out.)

    • We're doing a lot of thinking right now about how we can make topics more useful.

      I don't have a firm answer for you, but my advice is to not overthink it. If you're interested in something, chances are there are more people out there who are also interested in that thing. They may not be on Cake yet, so it could take some time and effort to find them and bring them here, but they're out there somewhere.

      So I think your best bet is to start conversations about the stuff you're interested in and spread the word and trust that people will find them eventually. Hopefully sooner rather than later. 🙂

    • The meaning of a given reaction is really in the eye of the beholder and will depend on the context, so I'd only use these as rough guidelines, but here's a list of the reactions Cake currently supports along with the labels you'll see if you hover over them in a desktop browser:

      😡 angry
      😲 astonished
      🏅 award
      😊 blush
      💥 boom
      💔 broken heart
      🎯 bullseye
      🎂 cake
      📷 camera
      😛 cheeky
      🍻 cheers
      👏 clap
      👊 closed fist
      😎 cool
      😢 cry
      😳 embarrassed
      🙄 eyeroll
      🤞 fingers crossed
      🔥 fire
      🙁 frown
      🏳️‍🌈 gay pride flag
      😬 grimace
      😀 grin
      🤢 gross
      🙉 hear no evil
      😍 heart eyes
      ❤️ heart
      🎉 hooray
      😂 joy
      🤐 lips sealed
      🤥 lying face
      🤘 metal
      🤯 mind blown
      😈 mischievous smile
      💰 moneybag
      💪 muscle
      😐 neutral
      👌 ok
      ✌️ peace
      💩 poop
      🌈 rainbow
      🙌 raised hands
      🚀 rocket
      🤣 rofl
      😱 scream
      🙈 see no evil
      🤒 sick
      😜 silly
      🤨 skeptical
      😴 sleepy
      🙂 smile
      😭 sob
      🙊 speak no evil
      😮 surprised
      🙏 thank you
      🤔 thinking
      👎 thumbs down
      👍 thumbs up
      🦄 unicorn
      🙃 upside-down smile
      😉 wink

    • I see two challenges with starting a conversation that no one is currently interested in.

      One, it increases the noise ratio for everyone else when they’re scrolling through the All feed.

      Two, I don’t have access to analytics to back this up, but in paging through all of the conversations back to August, it seems as if a conversation that goes two or three days without further replies is basically permanently dead here. That’s a million times better than the 15 minute lifespan of the average tweet, but I can’t see people putting in the effort for something epic like this

      if there isn’t at least some sense that it has a chance of engagement.

      Not trying to be argumentative for the sake of being argumentative. It’s just that I’m not seeing how a new user would easily have visibility to great content that never took off for lack of an audience when it was originally posted.

      And yes, @yaypie, you’ve got me pegged—I do tend overthink things.

      🙃

    • One thing I think people sometimes overlook is that while Cake's feeds like "For You" and "All" are designed to change rapidly to help you discover newer conversations, this only affects discovery within Cake.

      Conversations themselves are designed to be long-lived and to have great SEO, with the goal of helping people continue to discover them for days, weeks, and years afterward via search engines and externally shared links.

      It's a tricky balancing act because we obviously want to help conversations succeed by giving them the best chance to be discovered by Cake users, but we also need to make way for newer conversations so that there's something interesting in your feed that you haven't seen yet next time you visit Cake.

      We'll keep working on improving this, though!

    • SEO? You mean like this

      which led me to this

      and this

      The thing that appealed most to me was the idea that we could give women, people of color, and other people who are often targets of abuse or harassment a safe way to have meaningful conversations with each other online without having to resort to fully private means of communication in order to keep out the trolls.

      I think it’s just awesome that this was part of the vision for panels. I went ahead and shared it on the Federated timeline on Mastodon as there are a number of troll-abused populations that have migrated from Twitter to Mastodon and I think it would be of interest.

    • @JasonT Thanks for bringing this up - because I'm in exactly the same situation. The Cake platform, the idea as well as the people behind it, everything is great but it's hard to just jump in and start posting if there's no real community for that specific topic yet.

      "Post and they will come" is the general suggestion here - but "They aren't here yet, so I won't post" is something like a logical equivalent to that, and probably the more likely pick of the two for most people.

      This is especially true for topics where I want to participate in, but wouldn't consider myself to be a real expert. I'd love to talk about anything ranging from Hiking, over that free-to-play online card game I currently enjoy, to Android development. I'd love to participate in discussions about woodworking, gardening or the next expansion for the Civilization VI video game - but being an "Average Joe" instead of someone who knows every nook and cranny regarding some of those topics, I'm hesitant to start a discussion when I don't know what discussion might come up (if any at all).

      You brought up Reddit as a place where discussion already happens - and in fact, I lurk on Reddit for some of these topics, but would love to get away from it because it is often a vile place with all the anonymous downvoting and general trolling going on. Bootstrapping this is hard, though, so I'd appreciate any suggestions that might still come up here. :)

    You've been invited!