Three things I thought were interesting about Menshn

 by Martin Belam, 4 January 2013

At the risk of just turning into a linklog to Matt Andrews’s blog, he wrote a great post this week about trying to set aside the British curse of negativity. During the course of it he spoke about his own reaction to Menshn, and it has prompted me to dig this unfinished blog post out of the “drafts” folder.

I wrote it back in September, when the service was freshly launched. Given the legal issues that have beset Luke Bozier, the stories that Menshn is to close, and Matt’s post, I thought I’d finally publish it, as it was written, unedited by hindsight…

+++ Originally written 18th September 2012 +++

I suspect this may be one of the most unfashionable views I’ve ever posted on here…but here are three things I think are interesting about Menshn, the social network-y chat “thing” launched by Luke Bozier and Louise Mensch.

They’ve built a thing

It is easy to scoff, but they made a thing. It has never been easier to get a digital prototype or product or service built, tested and onto market than now, and they’ve done that. Sure, they’ve done it with some bad security flaws, but then bigger companies have made similar mistakes. I’m a big fan of getting stuff built and launched. As I wrote the other day about features in the Guardian Facebook app, “you learn nothing about user behaviour whilst your plans are sitting on the drawing board.”

And a lot of people have scoffed at the very idea of Menshn.

I mean, of course, it is silly right? Why would you want specific channels to talk about specific topics? You know, everybody thinks that IRC and Usenet Groups were dumb ideas, don’t they?

Oh, hang on. No, they don’t.

So you might not think there is a massive need for it in the market, but take away the “opinion-dividing MP launches rival to Twitter” hype, and instead look at it as IRC-style channels for people who would never use IRC, but who are comfortable with Twitter, and I think you see a different proposition emerge. It might end up only attracting a small hardcore of like-minded conservative supporters, but then niche is the new rock‘n’roll. If it turns out to be a sustainable community and business, then great, they’ve built a thing. What have you built?

Scheduled interaction

The last time I looked at Menshn was during Louise Mensch appearing on BBC’s Question Time. She’d scheduled to do a stint answering questions after the show finished transmitting. I liked that willingness to interact with the community there, and that it was flagged up for all users across the “hashtag/topic”. Some politicians & celebs & news organisations do scheduled Q&A slots on Twitter, but not that are promoted by the service in the same way. I was impressed with the commitment to engage.

Menshn screenshot

Ephemeral conversation

I was really struck by this in “the Menshn rules”:

“menshn is not forever. Many sites keep your posts indefinitely. On menshn, your menshns age off after one week and are not stored on our servers, except at our sole discretion. Reported or rated menshns, or menshns we are asked to keep by legal authorities or to investigate a complaint, we may keep as long as we choose. However, the standard here is that your menshns will disappear into the ether, and not stick around like Mount Rushmore.”

It reminded me of a conversation I had with someone at one of the Knight-Mozilla news challenge days. They were asking why news sites kept all the comments on old articles. “You don’t remember every conversation you ever have, only the interesting ones.” The idea we came up with was that only comments underneath articles that had generated replies or lots of “thumbs ups” would persist.

+++ End of original unfinished unpublished blog post +++

Why publish it now?

Well, a couple of reasons.

Firstly, having an unfinished draft blog post offends my geeky completist nature.

And secondly, as a reminder.

I didn’t bother finishing it at the time because it felt so out of step with what everybody else was saying bad-mouthing the idea, that I decided I didn’t want to stick my head over the groupthink parapet and disagree.

Which is silly.

Rest assured though, this isn’t the start of some trawling of the archives, I’m not going to start posting things I never finished about Lycos in 2004 or anything like that.

Although, now I think about it…


(searches Lycos)
(finds it's still around)
(and Tripod websites)

Wow. I remember Lycos.

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