Note: I’m privy to certain information disclosed partially in this post and I’m not liberty to reveal them fully. But, as you read this post, you’d realize that what I have shared is more than enough to deal with the specific issue cited.

465499758_cc141ec5bcAs a start-up, CommonFloor has a fairly interesting model. I’m not discussing the monetization aspect, but the concept itself. It wants to act as a social networking portal for apartments/ apartment clusters. I’ve seen a LOT of Yahoo/ Google Groups created by members in an apartment to keep in touch and broadcast messages relevant to them as a group and this is the segment CommonFloor is targeting.

Interestingly, joining CommonFloor has a slightly different process, compared to say, creating a Yahoo Group or an Orkut Community for a particular apartment. In the latter, a resident creates it and manages it. In CommonFloor, a member can request for membership, after which CommonFloor creates a community on behalf of the apartment and lets the requesting member in. That member may spread the word around to his neighbors and get them on board.

More than a mere Yahoo or a Google Group, Common Floor wants to add value by offering an online directory of neighbors, tools for the residents’ committee and add local classifieds into the mix, among other services. This is no doubt a workable and scalable model given the rampant proliferation of apartments in Indian metros. The service is available in 8 cities and I’m sure they’ve plans to add other cities as well.

Now, for the uncommon problem!

A month ago, one of the heads of Common Floor got a harried call from a owner of an apartment. He was the President of that apartment’s association and he actually threatened to report CommonFloor to the cops if they did not remove the group meant for his apartment. The reason? There’s in-fighting between two groups in the apartment and the rival group dared to post a lengthy PDF document in the CommonFloor message board of that apartment about certain issues pertaining to the running of the existing apartment association. This is a routine document that cites various areas of improvement and the reasons behind why such improvements in managing the association are required.

The reason why this was posted in the CommonFloor message board is also straight – the official Yahoo Group of that apartment is managed and ‘moderated’ by the existing apartment association and as such, anything against the association is moderated. The funny thing here is the fact that the association President threatened CommonFloor that the document posted was ‘pornographic’ in nature and if they do not remove that document and the entire apartment’s group, he’d haul them to the cops.

What should CommonFloor have done? See the document…is there anything ‘pornographic’ in it?

Yes? Remove it and ban the member who posted it or warn him/ her.

No? Tell the caller that they did not find anything ‘pornographic’ in the document and that they would not be able to remove it, baselessly.

What did they do? They chickened. The document was removed by that evening and that apartment’s group is no longer listed in the CommonFloor directory.

Wow! So, anybody can call and threaten CommonFloor and they’d comply…even if its utterly baseless?

Without getting into who owns the content in predominantly user-generated sites like CommonFloor, I’m questioning the credibility of start-ups like this who do not stick to their guns. If Orkut submits to pressure from Government and offers information about its users…if Airtel gives information (that too, incorrect!) about its user which leads to his arrest…how different is CommonFloor that accedes to one members’ threat and removes an entire apartment group? At least, in case of Orkut and Airtel they were forced to comply because it was the cops/ Government that was on the other side. In case of CommonFloor, it is just one resident owner!

Is it that simple to get content removed from an online group? If so, why does CommonFloor even bother creating groups on behalf of apartments?

Photo courtesy: jonwild via Flickr.