Facebook allows you to download an archive of content you have posted on their platform. Google allows you to do the same with many of their services. Twitter will also provide you with an archive. As will many other social media platforms.
And yet, I don’t know of a single community or forum software application that allows members to do this. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an option or two that does, but we need to do better and I want to push for that change.
I can think of reasons why it hasn’t been a priority. Posts in an online community are seen more as being part of the whole, so there isn’t necessarily a strong desire to download content separated from the larger conversations. In my 14 years of managing online communities totaling well over a million contributions, I have never once had a member request that they would like an archive of their posts. But that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be a welcome feature.
More importantly, this is the way the web is heading and, in fact, has already gone. It is the members who own the content that they share on your community. It makes sense that they should be able to download what they have contributed.
Download, Not Deletion
Please note that I am not talking about deletion of said content. Online communities are different from other spaces. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. are far more focused on the individual and on opting into that person. Hosted online communities are more focused on the community as an entity that members contribute to, together. If you remove 10,000 posts, you might affect 100,000 other posts and 10,000 other members in a negative way.
For this reason, a perpetual, non-exclusive license to publish content is important and the norm.
I recognize that not all community owners might want to allow members to download content. I am not talking about forcing it, but if the community software does not allow the option, then most community owners do not have the choice.
Many online communities have very limited resources. For this reason, software vendors should build the export function with limitations. It should be limited to just that member’s content – not the content of others – and they shouldn’t be able to download it over and over again within a short period of time because the bandwidth could add up. In other words, you can’t download it 25 times a day.
Why is This Important?
Put yourself in your member’s shoes and then think about the Comic Book Resources situation. I really don’t want to beat this whole CBR thing to death, but they opted to delete 12.9 million forum posts, providing members with only 2 weeks notice. And then they closed it early, several hours before the published deadline.
They did that because members archiving content at the last minute were hitting their servers too hard. What did you expect would happen?! They should have provided any member that wanted it with a downloadable archive of their content. That would have limited some of the unnecessary archiving. How many people would have cared enough to request their content? 100? 300? 1,000? Regardless, it’s doable. If you can shut the community off, you can do it.
But if the feature was already part of the software, it would be a lot easier. This is why we need it to happen. We need this feature to become standard. We need people to understand that content posted on our communities isn’t just content that we’ll one day take away from them. This will help to build trust.
If we don’t, then we suffer comparatively and become part of a shrinking group of tools that tries to separate you from your content. When it comes to giving members access to their own content, or not, you have to consider what side of history you wish to be on.