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Advice for Websites Combating Net.Obscurity? 173

Posted by Cliff
from the finding-and-keeping-your-audience dept.
waveclaw asks: "A Catch-22: how to initially draw people to a community when the a community itself is the selling point and your being drowned in information sea that the web has become? Many people take the popularity of Slashdot and other 'people concentrators' for granted. Whole communities are developing, as they have done for thousands of years, on web logs and news sites via reader feedback. Unfortunately, not all sites are well traveled. (Side note: a lot of reseach has apperantly gone into this.) For instance, the special interst publication Dragon Spirit Magazine is closing their doors due to a lack rather than surfiet of viewers. Belfy Comics lists an entire section of online-only comics which are (for lack of a better term) abandoned by both viewer and creator. Porbably the most powerful force obliterating free communication is neither fundamentalist nor jack-booted: it's obscurity."

"While network outages are easy to diagnose by comparison, what does a site do when it's dying? Sites like Keenspace and Webring and wiki try to build self-referential collections of sites and pages that sometimes work and sometimes don't Has anyone out had their back to this wall a lot and come out winning? Short of a listing on Slashdot, how?"

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Advice for Websites Combating Net.Obscurity?

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  • the better memes (more interesting sites) survive, while the dull ones without any care from the maintainers fall to the side. This isnt the rule, just a general case.

    also, can one of you admins restart the daemon that updates the front page stories' number of posts?
    • by dimator (71399) on Monday December 03, 2001 @08:36AM (#2647065) Homepage Journal
      Hasn't this always been true, not just with web sites? There are millions of books in publication, but why is it that we only hear of or care about (probably) 2% of them? Because the good ones are popularised while the not-so-good ones get lost in the sea.
      • by Kierthos (225954)
        Well, you have to admit, a lot of what we hear about books is either popularized by the media, promulgated by our friends, or... or... shit, guess that's it...

        I mean, when was the last time you were in a bookstore just looking for a particular book, and you bought something else because it just looked interesting? Not because it had a celebrity on the front cover, not because you had heard about it on Oprah or wherever. You had an extra 10-spot and just bought it.

        Lemme guess. Been a while. Same for me, really. The only reason I started buying any of the old Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout was because I really dig the series on A&E. Am I hooked on the books, even though a lot of the ones I have read haven't been turned into TV shows? Hell(tm) yes! But I had that impetus because of the show. Without that show, I probably never would have bought any of them.

        Same with web-sites. Unless you get that initial "oomph" to check it out AND unless it hooks you, odds are you're never going back. And even then, if you find something newer, shinier and better, it's still a toss-up as to whether you'll stay.

        Kierthos
    • Thats the problem - this has broken down because there is SUCH a sea of sites out there that the chance of me 'catching' a good site is minimal.

      If you look at sites as virii - I 'caught' /. about a year and a half ago when I was pointed at it by a geeky chum to see some piece of new about a new CPU. I've probably pointed a couple of people at it, they caught it too. /. is highly contageous, and easily transmitted.

      The problem is that the chances of me 'catching' another site is minimised because there are too many sites to visit - so I don't come in contact with the VAST majority of them. There might be a great site dealing with stuff I'm really into that I just never come across because its insulated by a sea of crapola!

      If you look at the material on the paper version of this site [legshow.com] in the paper version of THIS site [funkybusiness.com] there are some good insights into the difficulty of finding your market for a niche product - and the possible rewards.
      • Thats the problem - this has broken down because there is SUCH a sea of sites out there that the chance of me 'catching' a good site is minimal.


        Absolutely agree. Information overload is possibly one of the biggest problems we face. How many of us go to (insert you fav search engine here) type in a keyword(s)/phrase and get that much information, crap and unrelated crap returned that its just not economical (time or money) to try and filter it.

        In future I think our initial focus (to be successful) is not on the answer but the question.
        .
    • the better memes (more interesting sites) survive
      But what happened with a good meme that is never read by a "good" reader?
      Cocacola.com has his audience despite the fact that has no content because they have money.
      Each content need his audience, but not always audicen and content meet.
    • I agree with the point you make - but not all the sites that disappear are crap.

      Community sites need to reach a critical mass of regular members/viewers to continue attracting new members/viewers. The more people that are involved the more interesting and diverse the opinions are.

      This is reflected in many systems - take some of the more obscure /. articles if there are few posters in a given time frame people don't bother viewing and commenting on the articles (Go have a look in the older articles section).

      Same can be seen on Counter Strike (pick you game) servers. In a list of identical game servers available, the ones already established (with say 10+ players) will continually attract people rather than the sub 10 player servers.

      The critical mass required to survive varies on the system it is required for. But get it and theres a good chance you'll keep going (till the system environment changes and natural selection culls you again: ).
  • Change (Score:2, Insightful)

    by The Gardener (519078)

    If people don't like it, change it. Lack of interest is the public telling you something. People go to sites like Sluggy Freelance, Slashdot, etc. because the site offers something they enjoy and tell theri friends about. One email blitz of friends telling friends can make a huge difference. People just have to like the contents.

    The Gardener

    • And Further... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fireboy1919 (257783)
      The sites you put up as examples are sites where the user interest is nonexistant. I don't care about a "cute lil' cat" or "cute lil'" anythings, for that matter. I don't think I'm alone among netizens for that. And I don't think that "Magick" has a huge following either.

      However, if you want a media system and a belief system that are popular, Star Wars [theforce.net] and Christianity [christianitytoday.com] are both doing fine.

      And sites become popular overnight! Need I remind you of the dancing hamsters [dancinghamsters.com] and "All your base" [planettribes.com] phenomena that took the nation by storm inexplicably with only wierdness to pull them along?
    • It helps to be able to spell and use English grammar correctly -- in this sense, Slashdot is an exception. There were about 10-15 spelling/usage errors in your question, which lends an air of ignorance and stupidity to your online effort. At any rate, good luck for the future!
  • by turbine216 (458014) <turbine216NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday December 03, 2001 @08:17AM (#2647011)
    sites and communities fall into obscurity for one of two reasons:

    a: They're way to limited in their scope, thereby alienating a large potential audience; or

    b: They lack any interesting or original content, and thus don't attract any new members/users.

    A lot of webmins are quick to blame the audience for their lack of ingenuity or creativity. Remember - if it's not very interesting, who is going to be interested? Furthermore, if it's not very original, then most people will gather around something that is.
    • by reachinmark (536719) on Monday December 03, 2001 @09:20AM (#2647190) Homepage
      I'd add to that the fact that people are drowning in well-advertised products and content. I think the average American has become lazy when it comes to finding interesting products, because it has become so easy to just select whatever has been advertised the most.

      It is the little fellow who can't afford to brand his site that is losing out in our modern brand-driven society. People need to get off their buts and find things that interest them, rather than allowing advertising to choose for them!

    • 1) the site has to be apparently valuable enough that people will bookmark them and will continue to use the resource.

      2) The support mechanism for the site (products advertised, etc) have to be valuable enough that people will go for these as well.

      Maintaining the character of a site, breathing life into it so that it is constantly alive, is WORK. Some folks burn out on this faster than others.

      An example of this are sites like ubersoft [ubersoft.net], a comic strip which is decent, often excellent, but where the author sometime falls behind due to distractions or other details, or the well runs dry for a day or two.

      In a website like slash, the number of stories submitted, comments posted daily typically is something like one percent of the active users that day. It also depends on the events of the day, etc. A very crude measure to be sure. of course, you can have someone just pumping out stories for a year or two, But you better have an edge, like spinsanity [spinsanity.org] does, being located in DC, etc.

      • That doesn't seem fair to Ubersoft, since I visit it at least a couple of times a week. Maybe I would visit daily if I knew there would always be new content, but I wouldn't say the site is losing users on a permanent basis because he doesn't update on a totally consistent basis.

        Rockwood [rockwoodcomic.com] is a comparable site that is meticulous about updating three times a week, but I don't visit it any more often even though the two sites are comparable in quality.

        D
    • I disagree. The best site in the world (be interesting, funny, informative, whatever) can be sitting on a web server some where out there and who would know? Think about it before people reply. If you wanted to create a web-community on what ever subject matter how would you attract people? Advertise on related websites/mags? How much time/effort/money do you want to use to market your site? So you plough resources into marketing your site, I've said in an ealier post, if you don't reach a critical mass of numbers you'll fizzle out. Established brands (what ever they are) don't have to exert to much effort to market themselves - new commers however have to expend massive amounts of resources to establish themselves and make people aware they exist.

      While there are sites/brands that do flourish on technical merit alone they are the exception rather than the rule.

      Natural selection kills the unfit(for the environment), stupid and the unlucky. Most that are created will fall into one of these three catagories (in which ever situation you choose).
      .
      • by turbine216 (458014) <turbine216NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday December 03, 2001 @11:57AM (#2647882)
        You're right about one thing...marketing will definitely expand the number of hits you'll get, but all the advertising in the world couldn't help a truly obscure site. Take the two that the original submitter gave as examples...one was a slashdot-style discussion board centered around topics like Wicca. They could put ads for that site on Yahoo's home page, and it STILL wouldn't be a good site. Sure, they would get a great deal of one-time hits, but how many of those people would actually go back? A few, to be sure - but still, the material presented is doomed to being obscure. The other site, while a bit more amusing, is poorly fashioned and would appeal to a fairly narrow audience (not as narrow as the first site, but still narrow)...and the poster even said that it was rarely updated - another way to seal your site's fate.

        To summarize, I agree with you that marketing your site is key to pulling in the traffic. But it's REPEAT TRAFFIC that makes your site popular. People have to WANT to return to your site, and it takes ORIGINALITY, CREATIVITY, and FLAIR to put your content in demand. All the marketing in the world can't do that for you.

        And another thing...never discount word of mouth. You've never seen a banner ad linking to slashdot, have you?
  • better content? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fortinbras47 (457756) on Monday December 03, 2001 @08:18AM (#2647013)
    I think the poster is thinking about this the wrong way. When it comes down to it, if no one visits your website, it means that nearly no one WANTS to visit your website. This either means it sucks, is on some topic nobody cares about, or is a mixture of the two.

    Even if it's on an obscure topic, it eventually will pick up search engine hits etc... I have friends who ran sound mixing websites and even an RV parts store. They do nothing for advertising and started having all kinds of hits in the first case and orders in the second (very different types of websites).

    Anyway, if your site is dying, it's because of a more fundamental problem.
    • Re:better content? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Telex4 (265980)
      Not necessarily. The web suffers from two problems which make Web marketing incredibly difficult:

      1 - If you put up a Web Site, the only way people will find out about it is if other pages link to it, or you directly tell people about it. At least if you open a shop, people will walk down the street and they can't miss it.

      2 - The chances are that somebody has made a slightly better site than yours on the same or a similar topic. The Web is global, so you only need one or two sites for any one interest to please the global potential audience (see /.). So every new site that starts up *has* to compete with the big boys and will inevitably fail.

      I've been developing Web sites for years now, and I've found that your Web Site will only survive if you want it to. If you keep putting work into it because you enjoy it, and if you can find a clique of users who will enjoy it (forums, message boards and other interactive features help here), then there's nothing to worry about. Your site may remain obscure, or it may grow. If you've done the site really well, and you maintain it well for years, it will slowly blossom. Just don't get impatient, otherwise you may as well not try!

      If you really, really want a big site, then you'll just have to find a big gap in the market, put a lot of work into it, get a team to help you develop it, and put a lot of spare cash into advertising.
      • Re:better content? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by monksp (447675)
        I think there is also a third problem, similar to the first that you pointed out, and that's the fact that every page is accessable anywhere.

        To continue the storefront analogy, people will often use your store not because it's the best place to go, but because it's convenient for them; on the way home from work, down the street, whatever. On the web, -everything- is convenient, and people are always more comfortable with what they're familiar with.

        So even if you have the greatest site on a topic in the world, if someone has something that's not as good, even if it's a -lot- not as good, people will still read there rather than your site, simply because it's more familiar, and there are the intangibles that come from having a history with a site. (C'mon, don't tell me you longtimers don't get a whistful twinge at the thought of Signal11.)

        Really, if you're not the first kid on the block, you need to have something -really- spectacular to get and hold a crowd.
    • Some of the problem can be that some people do visit the website, just not enough to pay the bills. Thats hard. Because in many ways costs can go up with viewership. Many websites are good and usefull they just only intrest a limited set of people. Some of them are nonprofit, but even in that case you need to find a way to pay the bills. Just in that case you can find wealthy folks to give you money, if what you are doing intrests *THEM*.
  • Common Problem (Score:5, Informative)

    by squaretorus (459130) on Monday December 03, 2001 @08:21AM (#2647020) Homepage Journal
    I have worked on many projects which have failed due to a shortfall in uptake. The sites themselves were excellent, and beloved by their userbase - but the userbase just wasn't big enough.

    Running the risk of a granny egg sucking session, here are some observations of things which HELP a site.

    Novel Material / Early News
    If your site can be first with the news, or provide good novel content which is interesting / useful enough for people to print / bookmark you have a good chance of being referenced. This is a key FREE way to spread the word.

    Forums
    Wether /. style, live CHAT style, or some hideous mix as we did recently these are the key to any site working. Even one that is not there specifically to allow interchange - enable it and you give the site a sense of place - of commonality - of community. It's fluffy - but it works!

    Hard Copies
    It sounds stupid - but the sites we built early on, which had a paper newsletter (usually quarterly) asociated with them have done well. People seem to repond to the paper mail and visit the site. Coincide the paper issue with a new feature / big story and you multiply the effect.

    Email
    Give people a reminder email every couple of weeks - its not spam - they signed up for it. Say something in the email - not just 'visit us'.

    Recommend a Friend
    Give people an easy way to forward links to the site, and to every individual item within the site straight from the page. We know they can do this easily without a 'recommend a friend' button - but they really do work. Up to 50% of new members are coming from this on some sites.

    Stats
    Show people how many people are using the site - make people visible, through forums or other mechanisms. If you see a site thats obviously been updated TODAY and has a bunch of visitors your more likely to take it seriously.

    And some stuff you would THINK would work but in my experience doesn't.

    Directories
    Niche directories sound great. Operate a definitive list of great sources of information for people to access. Hope they start using you as their own bookmarks for this topic.
    On the whole our feedback shows most people are happy with google, AV, etc... for 90% of links, so don't need this kind of thing. These are costly to maintain well, and of little benefit.

    Too many options
    A mature site can cope with tonnes of options to switch this off, that on, remove images, add a reminder service etc... But again, we find that this stuff just puts people off if its there before an established community.

    Client confidentiality, DPA, etc.. stops me citing the examples - sorry.
    • Re:Common Problem (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aallan (68633)

      Directories
      Niche directories sound great. Operate a definitive list of great sources of information for people to access. Hope they start using you as their own bookmarks for this topic. On the whole our feedback shows most people are happy with google, AV, etc... for 90% of links, so don't need this kind of thing. These are costly to maintain well, and of little benefit.

      Interestingly I'm part of a team that runs such a site [ukrecscuba.org.uk] and while there is a whole bunch more content, after all its the website of a usenet newsgroup [news], alot of people (at least according to the site statistics) seem to use it as a bookmark substitute.

      Why is this interesting? Originally the bookmarks weren't a major part of the site, but the section seems to have grown, taking on a life of its own. Certainly its become the backbone which draws traffic to the site.

      Moral of the story? It seems to me that the more popular "community" sites grow, they aren't designed. There isn't any point trying to design a killer community site because you'll almost never figure out what the people want. Its definately not a case of "build it, and they will come" no matter how good your ideas are...

      Al.
    • Email
      Give people a reminder email every couple of weeks - its not spam - they signed up for it. Say something in the email - not just 'visit us'.


      I'd be very careful with this one. I will purposely avoid sites with even a hint of spam-like tendancies.
      Only send emails to individuals that have indicated they would like to receive mailings.
    • Slashdot-style polls work. My site doesn't get much content from the users, but if I put up a poll, people vote. They can't resist. They instantly click on the poll option that they like the most (or think is the funniest). Heck, sometimes they incite a comment.
      • Yep - I concur and wish I'd listed it. Of the 6 sites we've tried these 5 have found them to be among the most popular sections (in terms of the %age of users to visit >1nce a month).

        They can also be a good generator of novel content!
        • The reason they work is the low threshold in submitting a vote. And the feedback is instant. Very enjoyable for a first-time visitor. They fluff a little bit, but they work, just like fora(sp?)
    • Wether /. style, live CHAT style, or some hideous mix as we did recently these are the key to any site working.

      No. Chats and forums drown a site in drivel in all but a handful of cases. Forums on small sites are pathetic. Seeing two new posts a week confirms to the user that it is an unimportant site.
  • I run hackerheaven.org [hackerheaven.org] and I am also suffering from lack of content. As things move slow, the site isn't updated for a long time. This will ultimately kill it of course. I also know that things like these start slow. I guess I'll have to tough it out. In the end it comes down to how much patience you got...
    • Do you actively promote your site?
      How do you diffrentiate from other hacker/security sites?
      Who is your target audience?

      Do you actualy want to?

      Most sites set out as a learning experience (hmm parallel with Open source projects) and for the most part aren't intended to be mush else.
  • Uhm... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Black Parrot (19622)

    Ever heard of "porn"?
    • Actually porn doesn't really work very well. I've tried it. There is just so much of it available that it's difficult to generate actual interest unless you can really put some advertising dollars in.
      • To run a successful porn site, you need to differentiate yourself from the sea of mediocrity. I figure the next big thing in the porn industry will be 3D. Various 3D display types already exist (I like the head mounted ones myself.) So you'd have to film two video streams at the same time and synch them up, then run them through the 3D display. Until everyone else catches up, you'll have the whole market to yourself and should be able to make a killing. By the time they DO catch up, you'll need to have moved to something else (perhaps combining the www.fufme.com technology with the www.realdoll.com technology?)

        Or you could just cover something that no one else does. Like goats.

        • Way back in the days of 2400 baud modems I had a lil research project for online VR sex. My girlfriend at the time was going to school halfway across the country which as every geek knows leads to lots of online flirting. Both of us being geeks we were developing a pair of suits that would stimulate each user according to what the other was doing. It couldn't handle live images/sound but it could playback canned samples to fit the situation as best as possible and certain lil toys would be stimilated in the suits depending on your actions together. I've sometimes wondered if something like that would sell. It's not the real thing but it's better than most toys. ;)

          One of my current projects is a combination of Google's image search and Slashdot's community. Allowing images to be searched, user moderated, discussed, put in albums, etc. If I had a financial backer I'm sure I could turn it into something very cool but there is just no way I can afford a server with the needed bandwidth and harddrive space to make the site into a real business.
    • Yes, but I think it's tacky as hell.

      Another thing is that you'd just be "just another pr0n site". They are all the same, and also all boring.

      I have yet to see a pornography site that is actually doing something that will turn my head around. (With that I mean that they are really doing something cool with pornography, not just the tacky "SEE TEEN SLUTS BOBBING FOR CUCUMBER" type of yelling shouting and awful BLINK tag hell, oh, and the popups, and the tacky resize-your-browser-fullscreen-and-bind-all-mouse- events-so-that-the-unsuspecting-onlooker-is-stuck- there kinda antics)

      Usually porn sites just piss me off. I'm not alone.

  • by fortinbras47 (457756) on Monday December 03, 2001 @08:22AM (#2647026)
    Why don't people visit my website?

    Why don't people want to help code my open source project?

    Why don't people want to help test my program?

    Why don't people go all ga ga over what I'm excited about?
    Why doesn't want to go on a date with me?
    • There's wisdom in that there cynicism... it demonstrates the limitations of the geek mindset. In the "creating an online community" case, Slashdot geeks tend to think that all they need to do is create the message board (mailing list, online forum, whatever) and They Will Come. They will not, for the same reason that if you decide to have a party in your basement, and you don't invite any friends, No One Will Come.

      But this sounds unduly harsh. What I mean, more precisely, is that online communities model physical communities. It's not what you know, it's who you know. If you can't convince your friends, face-to-face or via e-mail, to join your community, then who the hell WILL you convince? Introduce your coworkers, your high-school hacking club, whoever you think might be interested in your forum. If they use it, it's a success. If they don't, rethink the architecture of the forum.

      Content is not enough. Usability is not enough. If people can talk with people they want to hear from through the abstraction of your forum, that's enough.
    • You forgot: "Why am I not getting any E-Mail?!?!"
  • How does a slightly over 3 year old Wired article and the observation that some sites get no traffic deserve a story posting? Are we going to start asking why some magazines go out of business or TV shows get cancelled?

    Sometimes people have really great ideas that get put out on the Web and like minded individuals flock to them. Other times you end up with utter crap [webpagesthatsuck.com].

  • If you try to start a community like a business it's going to suck. Nobody wants to join a site just so the site owner can retire to six mansions. Do something you're interested in and make an effort to do it well and then just build in ways the community can add on to what your already doing.

    Advertise. It sucks but yes if you want to get your site going quickly the best way to do so is to find newspapers, magazines, etc about the same topic and advertise your site. If people don't know about your site nobody will come to it.
    • Nobody wants to join a site just so the site owner can retire to six mansions.

      I think this is incorrect, it applies perfectly to most /. readers, but to the business community and the majority of the consumer community the opposite is true. On the whole if someone provides us with a product we enjoy we want them to receive appropriate rewards.

      Everyone that buys PlayBoy knows Hugh has FIFTY bloody mansions - it doesn't stop them paying out their money. If /. went pay per view next month no one would subscribe.

      But if a genuinely value added unique 'mainstream' site with a user base as loyal and wealthy as /.s went PPV I'd bet they'd retain a good %age of readers and turn a good profit.

      I've been involved in setting up business forums charging upwards of 500 sterling per month for membership which are doing well against 'free' competition with very similar features. It's all about perceived value.
      • I didn't mean to say that users won't use a site if the owner does well. I meant that users won't use a sucky site, contribute 100% of the content, etc just so someone can get rich with little effort. Users don't give a damn about your business plan.. users want something interesting or useful. Having a strong user community doesn't mean you'll make money though. A successful site needs both a business plan and an interested community.

        *shrugs* If /. went PPV I'd probably dump them simply because they don't provide enough unique content to be worth my while of paying for. /. is a strong enough site to be my homepage but not strong enough to make me pay for their service.
    • by sh00z (206503)
      The community hosting my web site [tromaville.com] is currently in the throes of going under, but it's hard to imagine that it's from a lack of traffic. In the year and a half I've been with them, banner ad rates dropped three times, they tried pop-ups, and I started shopping for a new host when the pop-unders appeared. *My* site's traffic is going as strong as ever, however, primarily due to getting listed in Yahoo's direcory. On average, Yahoo sends about 150 new visitors a day. I think a proper listing in Yahoo, Open Directory, and Google have kept me going strong.
      • It's probably going under because the front page contains a 254k flash animation which is apparently necessary to view the site. Even on my work T1 it's going to take about a minute to load.

        If I'd let it. I closed the window but fast, so it wouldn't do something crazy but typical, like crash my browser.

        I'd only heard about the site once before, roughly a month ago, so I'd say they haven't given themselves enough time to build a community. But they don't even have a fighting chance as long as that Flash animation is up there.

        D
  • Porbably the most powerful force obliterating free communication is neither fundamentalist nor jack-booted: it's obscurity

    huh? Porbably???
  • by reaper20 (23396) on Monday December 03, 2001 @08:26AM (#2647034) Homepage
    Most 'community' sites are basically all clones of each other. Pick your favorite subject. There is always a forum, weblog, obligatory Yahho Group. Now multiply that by 50.

    Nowhere is this more rampant than the linux community.

    How many linux news sites running slash/scoop/nuke are linking to all the same stories? Can you even tell them apart?

    It doesn't matter where a surfer goes, eventually it all goes to the same syndicated Reuters stuff, ZD FUD, or goatsex.

    Everything's been done, we're in a rut ...
  • That's how Rusty [kuro5hin.org] got noticed.
    • Yup, that works somewhat. When I check my referer logs I see lots of visitors coming from here. A little self promotion hurts nobody. :-)
    • Of course, you have to have worthwile content when you get to the other end of the link, which why people go back.

      kuro5hin succeeds because, for whatever reason, it seems to attract a lot of intelligent discussion. Presumably once it gets popular enough, the s/n ratio will go downhill as can be readily witnessed on a certain other site ;-)

      That said, I usually read slashdot with a threshold of 4 (sometimes lower, it depends on the number of postings in the given thread), which makes it fairly tolerable.

      Zeshan
  • I have an idea - they should send people email promising them free pr0n with a link to the site contained within. I don't see how this could fail - we'll code name it "Armour".
  • You mention archives that are largely unvisited.

    I've been to many large municipal libraries which have special archives of books and documents...many of which have not been accessed in decades (example : one book I read had not been opened for 23 years).

    I suspect the web needs this type of persistence for at least some of it's content. National archives, maybe? It's hard to tell what will be interesting to the "web researchers" of 1,000 years from now.

    Maybe it will all fit on a jaz by then!
  • ...or a stunt.

    Even SlashDot itself didn't take off till a CNN story talked about it.

    Next, you have to hook people into coming back. Analyzing my own habits there are two primary reasons for revisiting. Interresting content and frequently updated content. Slashdot, DrugeReport, DarkHorizons, DailyGrail, TheRegister.Co.UK, Salon, Slate... Keep it fresh and interresting or I'll soon forget to come back. I live on the net at work and home, so weekly updates are too slow.
  • by turbine216 (458014) <turbine216NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday December 03, 2001 @08:42AM (#2647080)
    If it's traffic that you want, try submitting a fairly inane "ask slashdot" question, and make sure to include plenty of links to the sites that you're trying to promote. For good measure, try throwing in a link to a Wired article.

    What's this? It seems you've beaten me to the punch.

    Seriously, though...can anyone else see that this is a fairly desperate attempt at driving traffic to two VERY obscure websites?
    • by ncc74656 (45571)
      Seriously, though...can anyone else see that this is a fairly desperate attempt at driving traffic to two VERY obscure websites?
      Another question: how is a website not getting traffic construed as censorship? Either someone doesn't have a clue as to what really constitutes censorship or he's taking advantage of the almost-guaranteed knee-jerk reaction to cries of "censorship" that will come from certain individuals.
    • by nettdata (88196)

      Seriously, though...can anyone else see that this is a fairly desperate attempt at driving traffic to two VERY obscure websites?

      I agree, and if it works, more power to them. The real trick will be to maintain that traffic, or even a small portion of it.

      If people go check out the site, and it's crap, then they won't go back. If they decide to go back, then it was lucky for them to see it mentioned here.
  • by Kalvos (137750) <bathory@maltedmedia.com> on Monday December 03, 2001 @08:47AM (#2647090) Homepage

    I can only speak to my own sites, particularly Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar [kalvos.org], which is dedicated to contemporary nonpop (read "classical new music and electronia").

    We started in September 1995 (using RealAudio 1.0, if anyone's old enough to remember that), have won awards (real ones, with money, such as the Deems Taylor Award for Internet journalism presented by ASCAP (yes, I know /. loves to hate ASCAP) at Lincoln Center), and have had nearly 330,000 visitors and 130,000,000 hits since we started counting in 1997.

    Those aren't big numbers, and they're also not big money. When you have a kind of 'mission' -- i.e., bringing nonpop to a wider audience -- it takes a lot of time. A lot of time. And folks always want something new, which means even more time. (Even the process of editing, converting and uploading our two-hour radio shows -- real radio, not Internet bitcasts -- for posting takes big chunks of time.)

    Like any content-rich site, it's also expensive -- bandwidth, storage (our site is nearly 6GB), software purchases, licenses, travel for interviews, etc. -- even if we (there are two of us) don't get paid. In fact, 80% of the site's cost is paid by us, and fundraising icons and even fundraising sales are ignored. We've had to answer inquiries from licensing agencies, negotiate agreements with composers (are remember we started three years before the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and had lots of stuff to 'grandfather'. When the New York Times print and online editions featured us at the end of October, we were hit will 11GB of bandwidth overcharges.

    We've eschewed the banner ad, kept the site focused on content and not design, and maintained near-complete Section 508 accessibility. As web expectations have grown, so have we, even though we're not a design-happy site.

    It's a lot of work, and we're halfway through our seventh year of doing it. People, I think, just tire of 'labors of love' after a while. We're a first-hand case of a site that has received accolades from visitors and media, and as two aging professional composers (both in our fifties) who also have day jobs, it's a pretty exhausting task. To have to pay $5,000+ a year for the privilege of doing it is even more tiring.

    Will we go away? Of course we will, either when we've completed our mission (unlikely) or when we're just unable to face another day of watching hundreds of visitors suck down the contents of our site without so much as a dollar sent in via Paypal.

    Dennis
    http://kalvos.org/ [kalvos.org]

    • Much as I agree with your mission, and like the web site, I can't help but wonder why you expect to break even from donations without making some kind of plea to your audience.


      I hate to admit it, but if I were you I'd rethink your aversion to banner ads, or else figure out what you can sell on the site in conjunction with the free services you provide, if you're getting so frustrated you are considering quitting.


      I know it's not everyone's favorite pasttime, but perhaps you and your partner need to sit down and hammer out a business plan. That, or file as a non-profit and try to get a grant.


      Very impressive site, nice work. I hope you flourish and prosper.

    • Parallel worlds (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wytcld (179112)
      Like any content-rich site, it's also expensive -- bandwidth, storage (our site is nearly 6GB), software purchases, licenses, travel for interviews, etc. -- even if we (there are two of us) don't get paid.

      You're streaming audio, and that's going to cost. But you've also found a way around that - send people to composers you feature at mp3.com. Also, many composers have ties to academia, where space can be available.

      One thing to remember: the site isn't the community. The site is one location, like a coffee house or bar, where some of the community can meet sometimes. I've been webmastering a site for the Jazz Journalists Association [jazzhouse.org] since '96. Why? Because I share your belief in the value of encouraging real music. What does it cost? Well, I've built it up incrementally, so it's not a big time drain. Content is donated by association members - it's an adjunct to an already existing community. At first it was hosted at a local not-for-profit ISP I volunteered with (to learn the trade - which worked out fine for me). Then I used a couple of hosting services (service quality was problematic - it was Superb and Pair). Now it's sitting on a Speakeasy [speakeasy.net] DSL line, which actually ends up getting better reports from users than hosting, and is a whole lot more convenient to administer. Plus I've got that connection for other uses, so only a portion of the cost is attributable to this project.

      Does it create a sense of community? Well, the Association is growing nicely, although conducting most activities in the real world, which makes most sense for an artform that works best live anyway. Attempts to get visitor discussions going on a BBS-type section haven't gone anywhere. People do add occassional comments to stories - but we're not set up as a weblog. Special events where journalists log on together for a few hours to publicly discuss a special topic, with questions coming in from the public, have some success - especially when they draw in existing communities, for instance from special-purpose mailing lists on the topics.

      Money? Nope. Referrals for book and record sales have brought zilch. Taking the Association to a formal not-for-profit and pursing grants is the long-term plan.

      But to reiterate: It's rare to form a brand new community. But communities are out there, and adding new service for an existing community can more likely find at least modest success, especially if you can piggyback your hosting and connectivity on systems and lines you have other good uses for.

  • If you have a cool site that will draw people back, you don't need to tell too many people about it. Word of mouth goes a long way on the Internet. Of course, you do have to tell the right people. NPR's been going on about social network analysis recently. If you can find the right people in the social networks, you can score big in the first time eyeballs arena by telling them about your site. Though that won't help you if your site sucks or has a flash in the pan kinda cool thing going for it. A lot of sites on the net are cool the first time but since they never change, they rapidly get old. Unless you want to be constantly maintaining your site and adding new content to it, you need to draw your users in and make them part of the site (Slashdot offers a little of both, which I think contributes to its continued success.)
  • by komet (36303) on Monday December 03, 2001 @08:56AM (#2647114) Homepage
    Whole communities are developing, as they have done for thousands of years, on web logs and news sites via reader feedback.

    And to think that I only joined slashdot in 1999! :)

  • Marketing. Read some books on it [amazon.com].
    Of course, it's good to have something special, something that people actually want (marketing types call this "differentiation").
  • by Pete (big-pete) (253496) <peter_endean@hotmail.com> on Monday December 03, 2001 @09:01AM (#2647132)

    I use a telnet based BBS (located in the UK) - called Monochrome [mono.org]. It's 10 years old now, and still going strong, although the population seems to remain roughly constant (but aging). It used to primarily made up of a user-base of students, but it has now evolved into a BBS for young adults, and hopefully it'll continue to evolve as time goes on.

    I don't know how the admin would choose to try and boost the population however if it started stuttering into serious decline - there seems to be a resistance these days to anything without a web interface or a custom client. Trying to explain telnet to someone who has never used it before can be quite difficult - especially when they try and click on the screen to activate options. The BBS has a java client on the website, but I don't think this really offers the best solution.

    The main attraction for people though is the community itself - there are files on virtually every topic anyone would want to discuss, but the files are nothing without the community. People KNOW each other there - in a current vote at least a third of the users claim to know (in real life) 20 or more other users. This is a real life community, not just a virtual one - and a perfect example of how the virtual world need not be entirely divorced from the real world.

    -- Pete.

  • communities have been developing around web logs for thousands of years? wow. huh. i wonder if Moses had to worry about first post noise or trolls.
  • by Travoltus (110240)
    ...is when a site becomes popular, and the resulting bandwidth usage leads to excessive bandwidth charges.

    This very problem - a problem surely manufactured by the bandwidth providers - has forced even Salon.com, and Slashdot, to consider or implement subscription systems.

    This will effectively cut them off from a large portion of their intended audience because
    1) Some people can't afford to subscribe;
    2) Some people already subscribe to 50 places, and are NOT gonna add another load onto their finances.

    This is how you destroy even the most popular ideas and sites, very quick. Bury 'em in high bandwidth costs, and scare off 90% of their audience by forcing them to go to paid subscriptions; or worse, cause them to stop operations altogether.
  • by wowbagger (69688) on Monday December 03, 2001 @09:11AM (#2647161) Homepage Journal
    I checked out the Dragon Spirit site just to see what it was. The main page told me nothing of what the intended audience was. I had to go to the about link to see who they were targeting (and determine that it was of no interest to me).

    Compare and contrast that to /.: Right there on the main page is "Slashdot: News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters." Right off, I can get a pretty good idea of whom /. is targeting, and make a decision as to whether I stick around or leave.

    On the web, you have about 10 seconds to grab my attention - then I'm outta here. Too many web sites overlook this rule - 50 second downloads of flash, useless intro pages, a failure to state what their target interest is, excluding anybody who isn't running $browser at $x_resolution by $y_resolution with @plugins.

    It's just like real life (in fact, most things online are "just like real life") - if you want to build a group, you cannot needlessly exclude anybody. I belong to two amateur radio clubs - one welcomes anybody to its meetings, licensed or not. The other has two old farts who dump on anybody who didn't work with Marconi (not the company, the man!) and are abusive to everybody else. Guess which club is healthy, and which is dying!

    Be easy to join, be clear who you are targeting, stomp on the trolls who drive off new members, don't be too overly narrow in your focus, and you might be able to create a group.
  • Persistance. If you try your best, and keep going at it, eventually you will be rewarded. The thing is that you can't stop improving - always get better, and eventually you'll have enough good content, enough recurring visitors that you'll have something to be proud of. Far too many sites become stagnant that could have become something great - you don't have to do the same. Dave
  • A Catch-22: how to initially draw people to a community when the a community itself is the selling point and your being drowned in information sea that the web has become?

    Simple. You don't. The site admins can't create a community by themselves. They sell their sites with content and interface.

  • My book review site [dannyreviews.com] is now getting up around 4000 visitors (10 000 page views) a day. But I've been adding new content to that for nearly ten years now, and I spend many hours a week writing reviews (and even more reading books).

    If you can afford it you can short-cut that process - you can buy some good content or convince friends, family, and strangers to provide it. And if the long-term approach to building up a profile is too slow, you could alwas buy come advertising (all I've ever spent was $20 as an experiment [danny.oz.au]). Just make sure you put the content up before you do the advertising!

    Danny.

  • success (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cr@ckwhore (165454) on Monday December 03, 2001 @09:20AM (#2647187) Homepage
    I run a skiing portal/weblog community type site... I haven't had any problem getting members. I attribute this mostly to how I've built the site.

    1. I don't have any expenses, so I don't care whether I get readers or not. Not a primary concern.

    2. I concentrate on making my site interesting and easy to use. This should be your 1st goal, because most weblog/portals suck. IF a potential new user navigates to your site, and there is nothing there that interests him/her, that user won't ever come back.

    Slashdot is targeted at the right kind of people for this type of media... geeks. The target demographic has a lot to do what people expect to get from your site. The vast majority of internet users don't understand what a weblog is. From that aspect, you need to provide content in a manner that normal users would understand. For example, my skiing portal is layed out like a magazine, with complete articles, and other diversions.

    Have interesting subject matter. Understand your target reader.

  • Maybe its us? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by M@T (10268) on Monday December 03, 2001 @09:21AM (#2647195)

    Maybe the reason there are so few "good" movies and so few "good" books and so few "good" TV shows is that, at the end of the day, we can't handle too many good things at once?

    10 years ago as an undergrad I began watching the web phenomenon unfold and rejoiced as sites like Alta VIsta, Yahoo, Slashdot, mags like Wired etc., online news services began to grow and churn out content... then (for me) came quake, irc, streaming audio, streaming video(!!), mp3s, the list goes on..

    .. then something strange happened. I stopped looking. Occasionally I'll do a search on something specific... even more occasionally I'll just browse. But by and large... I go to slashdot once a day now.. check my local news service once or twice a day and thats about it.

    Once you get into a routine you become passive... and even though 1000 new wonderful things are out there... you lose the motivation to go and find them.
    • Re:Maybe its us? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DaoudaW (533025)
      Of course its us, its all about us. Reading off a computer screen is a chore. We trade off the comfort of curling up on the couch, leaning back on a Lazy-Boy, or steaming in the tub. I grab a magazine on my way to the bathroom, read a chapter or two of a novel before falling asleep at night and read the morning news while eating toast and eggs in the morning.

      By contrast, when I'm online I am sitting at my desk, hands on keyboard, or keyboard/mouse, and I have to be constantly scrolling/paging, clicking, scanning for links. Frankly its not relaxing and the results are usually far less interesting than a good magazine article with better resolution/professional graphics and highly detailed photographs.

      Don't misunderstand, I'm not a Luddite. I spend several hours a day on the web. It's just that I don't use it for casual entertainment or recreation. It is just plain boring compared to well-crafted print media.
    • Once you get into a routine you become passive... and even though 1000 new wonderful things are out there... you lose the motivation to go and find them.

      ...and thats what the trolls are for.
  • Its a shame that some sites slip away without the people of the net spotting its special points.

    Fine some people say its evolution of the internet, and i sorta belive in this. Without the newer better looking websites people wouldn't strive to improve there site and make a more interesting, content driven, and community centered site. If this never happend we would be still stuck in the dark ages of websites, with simple black and red text themes.

    While sites slip away without a blink of an eye, people must strive for the traffic now...no longer can we get away with dull repetive sites that cover the ground again.

    Anyway thats my 2 cents...
  • Free speech (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Zulu One (183762)
    I am somewhat minded of the Robert Heinlein quotation: "Anyone can have free speech if he owns a printing house." (IIRC) The upshot of this in internet terms is that you can only have free speech if you can get people to read what you post. This has long been a problem for magazines in that it is difficult to get people to read a new magazine until they hear it recommended by someone else.

    By the way, if you want to combat this, you might like to visit my website-in-development at www.doublezero.uklinux.net [uklinux.net]. I am developing the code a bit like Slash, PHP-Nuke etc. but it has far to go before it even becomes capable of holding a community, let alone attracting one :->

  • With apologies to Sluggy Freelance [sluggy.com]

    Sluggy, like most web comics, if you jump into it at a late date, makes no sense...you have to go to the beginning.
    Even then, well, it grows on you. And who does not like "Bun-bun"...a switchblade toting mini-lop...heh.

    Link whoring biatch that I can be: PVP [pvponline.com], GPF [gpf-comics.com], Sherman's Lagoon [slagoon.com] a long time favorite of mine, Dilbert [dilbert.com] of course, and one that was pointed out to me recently: Non-Sequitur [non-sequitur.com] and, of course, Userfriendly [userfriendly.org].

    What is the common thread amongst all those sites I'd recommend? Intelligence, humor, referrences to other events (this usually escapes some of the younger crowd/moderators/slashdroids, no offense) and some funny characters, situations and all.

    If you look at the comics on the links /. gave, well...I random sampled and was not impressed.

    That's my opinion,

    Cheers,

    Moose.
  • by linuxrunner (225041) on Monday December 03, 2001 @09:58AM (#2647309) Homepage
    The web was meant to share information. Really! No Really! That's why it was initally created.... Not to sell stuff. No Really....

    Idealy, portals are just that, a way to share mass amounts of information and allow users to find their way there. Also communities are a way to share information of a like idea, sport, subject matter, whatever....

    It's when you throw in a large commercial aspect of pop-up ads, click here for this, or buy that from me, that people / surfers loose interest in your site. They are there to share ideas and information, not buy something. If they want to buy something, then they'll go to the appropriate store or online store, not a community that sells it. Just go direct to the horses mouth.

    A web community that I'm still apart of went through this failed transition. He wanted to make money off of his extrememly popular and traveled web community. He added lots of ads. And took it from a small, focused community, and made it into a large portal. This failed because the focused community only cared about one thing, not the rest. He dropped back to where he started. He then charged a small fee and made a membership section. I paid for a membership. Very few did.

    Everyone else jumped ship and went to another FREE community. Communities are easy to build and find. If it's good, and the information is there, people will come. If you force advertisements and memberships or sales down the throats of users, they will leave. Information was meant to be free. Keep it so, and people will come.

    My advice:
    Don't do it for the money, do it because you love it. Do it because you have something to share. Do it because you want to talk about what you enjoy with others that enjoy the same thing. Don't do it to make a quick buck... It will never work.

  • Different sites will always have different numbers of visitors. It's obvious - a site about Star Wars will always have more visitors than an equivalent site about say, fly fishing (for want of a better example), simply because Star Wars is more well known. But that doesn't mean that the fly fishing site is obscure - it might be the most popular fly fishing site on the web.

    The real question is how much of your potential audience are you attracting? Do fly fishermen know about your site. If your target audience is interested and visiting the site then you're doing fine. If not, that's when you need to worry.
  • The site is so unpopular it's not even /.ed right now!

    graspee
  • That's what I see, anyway. I've been a part of multiple small communities that've turned into something big. The Planetquake community that became Gamespy Industries, the Contaminated.net community that was devoured by GSI and became planethalflife.com, the group of Lowtax fans that became SomethingAwful.com readers, and the Politechbot.com members that became readers of what has to be one of the most popular mailing lists around.

    Your readers may say they love what you do, but if they loved it enough word of mouth and power of linkage would keep your hitcount rising. This is where I come to the 'problematic solution' part: when it's decided that content-creators somehow are entitled to success in return for their having worked hard to create something not many people want, we'll get our savior; it'll be 'Philip Mepocketz', saint of consumerism. A website's existence will become even more dependent on advertisers, and achievement through one's own talent will become obsolete in the face of large marketing firms that can be hired to make "Bill Gates' personal journal" page the most popular site online -- much like how, today, a large record company can give a pile of shit a pretty face and make it the most popular band in America (among young people who've been raised in a world that holds physical perfection as it's #1 priority). And the day that happens, is the day I sell my computer.
  • the article referenced in this phrase:

    (Side note: a lot of research has apperantly gone into this.)

    which is

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/6.01/bronson_pr .html [wired.com]

    well, this is dated January 6, 1998.

    Is it just me, or is this info simply dated, coming as it does from the middle of the dot-bomb boom, three years before the edge of the cliff was even visible?

  • by ers81239 (94163) on Monday December 03, 2001 @10:56AM (#2647582) Homepage
    Didn't you or at least one of your friends go through that 'Nobody likes me, how come I'm not popular' phase? Well, in case you didn't, here is the lesson to learn:

    You don't become popular by whining that you are not popular.

    This thread reminds me of all the stupid web site surveys I've put up for clients. They ask dumb questions like 'Do you think this site is cool?', 'Would you recommend it to a friend?', 'Do you plan on coming back to this site, if so how often?'.

    Nothing says 'I AM A LAMO' like these types of questions.

    I agree that building a community is hard. But like others have said so far, it is a social/marketing problem, not a technical one. I think communities are made by leaders, not by good ideas.
  • i run dangerz.net, and i have a nice fanbase. one thing that kills a site is downtime tho. i was averaging ~500 a day back in the day, and was gradually rising. then my server went down for a month, that went down to like 20 a day. i was able to pull it back up to 300, till my host went down again for a month. now i'm at 70, and gradually coming back. having people with sites like yours, that are more popular, link you is a big help also. dangerz.net is a fun hobby for me. have fun with your site, and don't worry about the hits. by the time you remember to check your hits, you'll realize you're getting a lot more than you thought. and remember, it's all about the fans. and a little about you.
  • This may be the number one problem facing the Net. If I start a restaurant in Denver, I don't have to compete with those in San Francisco or New York. On the web, everything is one click away. If a site isn't the best in its niche (or one of the top few depending on the size of the niche), it faces obscurity.

    The ease of publishing on the web is really deceptive. The marketing of web content is really no easier, possibly harder than for print media. We don't have the equivalent of the magazine rack in the grocery store or news stand.
  • by under_score (65824) <mishkin-slashdot&berteig,com> on Monday December 03, 2001 @11:21AM (#2647700) Homepage
    I've been trying to promote my own community web site for about 8 months now. (For those who are interested, the link is in my sig.) I have some practical observations for promotion based on a _very_ small budget: First: your two best hopes are word of mouth and being mentioned by a place that gets _lots_ of traffic. Second: don't bother spending money on something like Google unless you can find a really good demographic to target. I tried this for quite some time and I think I maybe got 3 or 4 people joining for my efforts and dollars (about $300) - definitely not worth it! Third: take advantage of sites like slashdot where you can use your sig, and from time to time post comments which actually are on-topic and attract people. I've done this relatively successfully and been modded up for my efforts because I was careful to post appropriately. Fourth: find portal sites that are apropos to your community site that allow you to submit links. Submit your site. For the amount of effort, this really helps with search engine rankings and a little bit of traffic. Fifth: email people who's personal sites indicate they might be interested in your site. This is unsolicited, but most people appreciate feedback on their own efforts and also are interested in opportunities to promote themselves. Community sites often offer this opportunity one way or another. Six: well, my site isn't "successful" yet, but it's growing slowly but surely. To be frank, I don't really want a _huge_ surge in attention because I'm not sure yet about the scalability of my servers. Be careful what you ask for: I personally believe that slow but sure growth will be worth more in the long run. (And that isn't just sour grapes: I've learned a lot by having people provide feedback. If I had a huge surge, I probably would have ended up with a lot of dissappointed users.)
  • Much of this has already been stated here, but here goes.

    1. Keep it free.
    The mantra here on slashdot is often information wants to be free. This isn't exactly true, and is rather antromorphic. A better statment is that information tends to move toward a state of being free. In other words, no matter what you do, you will be unable to make much money charging for 'premium' content. The only exceptions being large providers like AOL, and those who suffer from too many visitiors, not too few. If you are trying to get more visitior, charging for access will simply cause them to go elsewhere.

    2. Keep advertisment to a minimum.
    Keep the annoying ads to an absolute minimum. You need to pay for your site, but annoying me with popups, popunders, or banner ads will generally just piss me off. Honestly I can't recall even one ad (internet or otherwise) that convinced me to buy anything. On the other hand, there have been many times that I have stopped patronizing a business because of the ads.

    3. Keep it open to everyone.
    You should welcome anyone to discuss whatever topic you want. Don't allow flamers hotheads or assholes to dominate any discussions you have.

    4. Keep a specific focus.
    Although it should be open to everyone, keep it specific. Slasdot is 'news for nerds' instance. we discuss geeky things here. More mainstream things are generally shunned here. Keep true to the general purpose of the site.

    5. Make it obvious what the site is about. I don't want to have to spend 20 minutes trying to figure what your site is talking about. I should know within 10-15 seconds of clicking the link.

    6. Keep the site easy to access. Make it quick loading, with a minimum of extra crap. Stay away from flash, java, javascript, large images and anything else that increases the download/rendering time. Remember a large percentage of your users will likely be comming across a dialup connection. Make it friendly to low bandwith connections. Only use the major stuff when absolutely necessary. Javascript further should be avoided because of it's tendency to crash a browser. I have even turned good javascript into bad by pressing stop at an inopportune time. Wherever possible use server side processing. Client side processing could be used to take some of the burden off of your server, but even then it should be possible to make such things optional rather than manditory.
  • imposter (Score:2, Funny)

    Probably the most powerful force obliterating free communication is neither fundamentalism nor jack-booting: it's obscurity."

    Cliff, Katz steal your password again?

  • On Quorum.org [quorum.org] [quorum.org] we were having this discussion [quorum.org] [quorum.org] just yesterday. Part of the discussion talked about how to get casual viewers involved and participating in a community site. There were some other things discussed, go and take a look.
  • If your site is becoming obscure, it's probably because (get this) it doesn't appeal to enough people to keep it viable.

    My heart bleeds for these people who aren't making any money from their sites. No, really.

    I could make enough off banner ads on my own site to just about break even on the cost of maintaining it every month. But banner ads suck, and I run my site because I want to, not because I feel the need to make money from it. You unfortunates who are sliding into obscurity should probably rethink your business plan.

    -Legion

  • I have no stomach for webmasters that complain they can't go on because their userbase is too small. Either you believe in and enjoy the site you publish, or you do not. If you close due to lack of interest then your little project was just to massage your ego. You have to be prepared to forge onward regardless of how many people are listening.

    There are two exceptions:
    1. Your site is based chiefly around user-to-user interaction, e.g., message boards. What would /. be without people talking?
    2. Your site is profit-driven. Webmasters who close because they couldn't recoup their costs don't get an exception - they're not dedicated to their mission. Forging a web site is often about personal loss.
  • People come up with an idea, are enthused about it, pursue it for a while, become bored, and leave it.

    Companies spring into being, try to market things, and make it or don't.

    Everything is cyclical and fluid, on the net even more so. People will congregate like a flock of birds, then fly apart. Be happy that you were the focal point of a congregation for a while, that you brought interesting things and thoughts to somebody, and move on.

    *shrug*
  • While many people offer conjecture and theories about how to combat net obscurity, I believe that I actually have The Answer. When working on my old site (which is since no longer updated, just due to a lack of time on my part), my friend and I stumbled onto the bizarre secret of building a community online.

    Build a good site, update it regularly, and offer visible community features. But DON'T let the community be the entire site.

    The real key is that last part. Personally, I think sites like Wikipedia are poorly designed because the community is the entire website. That's just plain stupid, and it takes several years or a bizarre miracle to work [everything2.com]. The real way to build a community is to create a regularly updated site with both news and content, tethered to a broad but somewhat specific subject. In other words, you want Slashdot. Slashdot news and articles centered around the topic of technology, with a community built up around it via comments/talkback.

    But I think the real key, in the end, is not to look like you're really trying to build a community. If you just build a good site and offer community features, that community will build up and eventually it will be large enough that it can either become a main feature of the site or 90% of the site itself, creating its own content off-shoots like Ask Slashdot.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken

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