the tail ‘tagging’ the dog

I only recently stumbled across the Dog Trust’s photo-sharing community, I’m not a dog owner, and frankly have no particular affinity with dogs, but the fabulous design, adoption of features such as tagging, and impressive attention to detail all made an instant impact on me.

I encouraged Tim Malbon, Creative Director at Interesource, to share a few juicy morsels from the website’s first six months…

The Dogs Trust seem to have embraced user-generated content with gusto. Has this been an easy journey?

We have a really close relationship with Dogs Trust. We first suggested the idea at the end of 2005 and while it took some time for the charity to come round (the growth of services like Flickr and Photobucket, and social networking websites like MySpace helped here), the people there embraced our vision pretty quickly. It’s brilliant working with people who ‘get it’.

It was also an exciting way for us to work: generating an idea and then selling it to a client – instead of waiting for clients to ask us to solve their problems. You can only work like this when there’s a lot of trust and respect.

Is the UK’s first charity photo-sharing site of its kind? Did you ever consider a service like Flickr?

Yes, and yes. What we initially thought though, was that there is an opportunity to generate some revenue from crowd-sourcing dog photos.

Consider there are millions of dog owners who are taking billions of photos of their dogs, but have nowhere to put them. We thought these photos would start a ‘conversation’ about how much they love dogs: simple as that. That’s what we saw happening – particularly on Flickr and Dogster.

What we added was the idea that you can create value from this by asking the user to donate the rights to their images in kind. More about that later.

Could you give some measures of the success of DoggySnaps?

The success of DoggySnaps has been overwhelming. With practically no PR or marketing, and from a standing start in October 2006, we now have over 40,000 photos of dogs and this is rising steadily everyday. The website received 164,000 visits in January from a truly global audience. The average visit lasts 16 minutes. We have an active community who are emotionally engaged and very responsive to the website, newcomers and new features, which is fantastic for such a young site.

What has the charity learned about engaging with dog lovers in this entertaining way, compared to more traditional forms of supporter communications?

The most important thing – I think – is that the charity gets better results when it engages supporters on their terms, instead of trying to ‘interrupt’ them in order to ask for donations.

DoggySnaps is now a part of their lives, not an interruption. I think we’ve only just started to explore ways to translate this into donations.

What are your plans for enhancing the service… and how much is this informed by user feedback?

A large proportion of feedback from users is incorporated into new developments – ‘emoticons’ in the new forums, private and public messaging in ‘kennels’, information about the actual owner… and a number of forthcoming projects have all been driven as a direct response from feedback from the community.

To be honest, these guys are on the site 24/7 so it makes sense to listen to them, as they work with the DoggySnaps front end the most.

We are also planning to launch a beta community that will allow us to engage the most active users specifically to test new ideas and features.

Have you identified how the user-generated photo library might generate donations to support the work of the Dog’s Trust?

The Dogs Trust developed the website for the primary purpose of raising money and awareness of the charity, its dogs and the message. It can monetise the user-generated content by creating a rights-managed photo-library… selling images to advertisers, brands and publishers. If you think about it, dogs are one of the most popular themes in advertising and marketing.

There are lots of other ways, too – e.g. premium ‘treats’ and on-demand printing may turn out to be the most effective, but there are others: an online dog show… pulling in some of the Dogs Trust website… Who knows? There’s so much to try. We’re also experimenting with advertising.

How is the service managed? Is there a full-time Community Manager?

We have two editors; one who deals mainly with website maintenance issues, and another who responds to emails and requests. They work to make sure there is a consistent service.

What’s your favourite feature on the site?

I personally love giving treats – I think it has so much more potential. People really feel like they are contributing and involved with the site, as they all affect the stats. Also looking forward to video.

I notice Clarissa Baldwin has a blog. Did she take much convincing – or coaching – to start blogging?

Clarissa is so passionate about her dedication to dogs and verbalising this, I’m surprised she didn’t request a blog sooner!

Have a good sniff around yourself… and check out Clarissa’s blog, too.