TUANZ (the Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand) interviewed honcho at Geekzone, Maurico Frietas. MF raises some interesting points – his interview is transcribed below. Good comments MF and well done TUANZ for facilitating the exchange.

User-generated content is at the heart of one of the most popular technology sites in the country. Geekzone features news, reviews, blogs and social networking but, according to its founder Mauricio Freitas, it’s the online forums that attract the users

With more than 500,000 unique browsers a month, Geekzone is the 15th most visited website in New Zealand audited by Neilsen Netratings.As a regular reader of his Geekzone blog ‘My Window to the World’ it seemed like a no-brainer that Freitas should be a speaker at the upcoming TUANZ Business Internet Conference. So it’s great news that he’s agreed to present a session on User Generated Content and participate in a panel discussion ‘Blogging you Customers’.

Here’s an edited Q and A with Freitas, starting with his reply to the question on what makes Geekzone the in-zone for tech users and why companies are now engaging its contributors online:

Because of the reach and depth of discussions, some telcos also have an official participation on the site. The first one was WorldxChange, then TelstraClear. Recently some Vodafone officials have been answering questions where they can. We try to make sure people don’t use the forums as the companies’ help desks but we have seen some instances where faults were brought to the attention of a company through discussions and blog posts and actions were taken to resolve them. It’s great to see providers and the community interacting.

How would you describe your readership?

I wouldn’t necessarily say they are geeks, but they are people with an interest in or a need to use technology. We have people with impressive technological knowledge helping non-technical people. And I have seen a wide range of people, from the home user to business people, looking for the ideal VoIP solution for their needs.

Roughly, what’s the percentage of domestic traffic compared with international traffic to the site?

About 20% of our traffic is from New Zealand and the rest from overseas, with a large number from the US.

Judging from the blogs and the comments I’ve seen on Geekzone you have a pretty relaxed policy with regards to users expressing their honest opinion – has that got you into trouble with any businesses or organisations? If so, can you elaborate on what occurred?

The policy is actually anything but relaxed! We have a set of Forum Usage Guidelines (FUG) that is revised as required, and set some strict rules for people posting in the forums. For example we ask people to attack ideas, not other people – and we mean it. To enforce the FUG we have moderators – volunteers who work with me and understand what the site is about. 

We also ask some of the telcos’ employees to not disclose confidential information such as details about new services or products because this creates more of a problem for them than for us.

There are always those who can’t just accept people have different opinions. With those we act quickly. I once blocked an IP address that was associated with someone posting personal attacks and bad language, just to find out later it was a large company’s proxy server, in effect blocking the entire staff from accessing Geekzone. I won’t say here which company, but it is in my personal blog.

Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, while empowering for individual users and organisations, can also be a minefield. What’s your advice to business users wishing to either incoporate user-generated content on their website, or engage actively in blogs that comment directly on their industry or product/service?

Participating in the forums is a good start. Corporate blogs could be where the blame game ends.

Companies should have public and private corporate blogs, employees are always eager to know the direction and often the plans don’t reach the ranks as fast as leadership would like.  ­For instance those official e-mails telling everyone the new strategy reach many people but don’t answer everything and do not help generate discussion.

I am not talking about corporate blogs written by media people. Blogs should be from real people to real people. If corporate policy or official regulations require some vetoing before public communications, that’s something the companies will have to clear, but don’t use PR speak when talking to the users.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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