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Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Business Week Forum: A Community Remembered


I received some good news from my business school clients recently. I worked with 4 clients this year on their essays and this is the 2nd one to be accepted by one of their top choice in this difficult year. A 3rd client got an interview at his top school but I haven't heard the results and the 4th is still waiting for news.

This MBA news got me thinking about my early days as a new MBA. Shortly after graduation, I got involved my the first on-line community and you know how they say that you never forget your first. This on-line community was the rough and tumble world of the Business Week Forum (BWF) that funneled Type A personalities, the unbearable anxiety of the application process due to a lack of direct control, some very smart people, and some very twisted and strong personalities all of whom were in front of computers most of the day and either spilled their worlds into BWF or used BWF to build their own alternative worlds.

BWF was sponsored by BusinessWeek magazine and became the main message boards for MBA applicants, current students, admission consultants, groupies, and alumni. It's peak was probably around 1999-2001 when the Princeton Review's message board was undone by it's donkey powered technology platform. I joined the fun in 2003-2005 as a truth speaking quirky alumni that preached balance, humility, lots of animal husbandry jokes, and a more holistic approach to selecting schools or careers. As someone who had already graduated from a fancy MBA school, I got to be the nicer guy in the fraternity who made it through hazing unscathed enough to try to help the pledges rather than crushing their spirits.

Through about 2005, Business Week Forum had a strong sense of community. Enough of us realized that behind user names like Lawstudly, Maleinrebate, and Classynfun were real people that we would likely meet at school or out in the business world in our overcharged networking enthusiasm. Community norms and rules were set like not to ask people their GMAT scores as though that was the key data point to unlock mysteries of the admission process. New admissions consultants with yahoo or hot email addresses and questionable credentials were virtually poked and prodded (and I'm not talking about a Facebook poke). We also thought that we were really funny and clever. I mean really clever. We'd argue politics, whether Air America radio would survive, or whether Transformers would beat Gobots in a fight or post images of a wholesome 50's style mother preparing fresh vegetables for dinner under the post title "Tossing Salad". We also felt smarter as we learned from other posters what the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) schools were and we even had a feel of which were the best IIT's or a graduate of those school was an IITian. Would also feel altruistic as occasionally, we would try to help someone weigh the pros and cons of their school choice, whether to take a job in a new field, or if their coworker was really attracted to them or not.

The only draw back of this community is others thought we like Dungeons and Dragon's geeks (of which I played until junior high) when we talked abour on-line friends or bragged about how clever we with our on-line posts. However, on BWF, we also questioned whether we were really a community or just all avoiding reality together.

I did meet quite a few of few of the BWF posters in real life and found that people pretty much are who they say they are on-line. Their on-line personalities might different. For example, Classyfun, who said she modeled, really looked like a model but Lawstudly, who had such an insanely different view of the world that some thought he was a hyperactive 16 year old who drank a gallon of Mountain Dew Code Red before posting, was really a very calm, unassuming guy.

Around 2006, the community notion started to disappear. BWF became more transactional with more posts about tell me what you know and don't waste time speculating where was the best school for late 20's MBA's to hook up with undergrads. Applicants started to spend more time on the school's message boards where they could get more factual information and audition for the admissions committee and school's students. The posters seemed to forget that the other posters were potential classmates or coworkers. There was less interest in anyone's personal life and harsher posts. There was still some banter but it was more about getting through the application process together and less about exploring interests, politics, or favorite childhood toys. The current BWF moderator tries to recreate the community by posting questions and creating discussion but response is very half-hearted.

Around this same time that the sense of community disipated, BWF did an overhaul of the message board's platform. The new version was slower, had no new functionality, and had more space for ads. Reception was comparable to the the New Coke rollout and the moderator tried to serve as a liason for posters between unininterested developers who did their best to avoid answering questions by answering every single request with a "What browser version are you using?" Corrections were slow, feedback was given the corporate equivalent of "Let's put that in the Parking Lot for later", and posting activity dropped. Attitudes were changing already but the technology switched accelerated the process.

BWF was very good to me as I made some real friends and got involved in the admission consultant business. As we search for communities, both physical and on-line, I did miss it and wondered why it declined when technology use was growing as well as interest in MBA programs. I think that the growth of other school message boards gave the outlet for advice on the business school application process and social networking sites gave an outlet for finding friends. A site that somewhat combined both got squeezed out.

I think that I also miss it because I was really really funny and clever on that site. Honest, I really was much funnier there than I am on this blog. I mean- like-people-sprayed-their-sodas-on-their-key-boards-out-of-their-nose funny. Realy, I mean it. Okay no one else who wasn't on the BWF believed me either.

2 comments:

Sam said...

I just stumbled on this, but there is a forum (now) that is very much like the one you describe (in past)--it's called www.gmatclub.com. It's got great people.

It's possible that as it gains in popularity, it devolves into what BWF is now, but I predict it has a longer shelf life since it is actively moderated.

Deadhedge said...

Thanks, Sam. I would check out GMAT club but I am afraid that I would get sucked into it like I did to BWF. There should be an on-line forum that combines b-school research with socialness to fill the gap of BWF

The moderation could be key. BWF was passively moderated which was not a selling point.

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