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Developing Online Communities? 30

Johnny asks: "I'm involved with a project that is looking to develop an online community for technology oriented business customers. Although there are various communities on the web, there is no centralized source of information for the customers. If you could develop an online community to encourage collaboration and information sharing, what features would you want included? How would you go about including features that are widely available in other places (weblogging, message boards, wiki) and generating buy-in from customers."
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Developing Online Communities?

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  • by smagruder ( 207953 ) <stevem@webcommons.biz> on Saturday February 25, 2006 @03:21AM (#14799179) Homepage
    a discussion board and a wiki into a portal, and it would be easiest if all these were developed with similar technologies (I know all of this could easily be done with existing PHP-based apps). A blog-like component could be created via tying a page on the portal site into a forum that resides in the discussion board, or you could integrate dedicated blog software.

    Also, given that your community will want to deliberate and reach decisions, you would likely want peer-rated discussion and enhancing polling in the board. Of course, wikis also provide for "talk", but IMHO, wikis are best left for collective reference/documentation building, not ongoing discussion/deliberation.

    As long as you provide the portal/hub that ties together the ability to build a community reference, discuss/deliberate subjects of importannce, and somehow come to decisions, you will then have the basics of an online community.

    Of course, this is all just a nutshell off the top of my head.

    Hope this helps.
    • As an aside...

      So what if you have some reasonably complicated website with login, "stuff" and everything else, and you want to integrate some sort of message-board?

      I've been working on a games website [darwingames.com] with a friend, where step #1 was "make games work". Now we're on step 3 or 4, which is "get forum software", but I haven't found any relevant sites discussing integrating some reasonably simple forum software with existing login systems.

      There seems to be two schools of thought:

      1- You are an end
  • There are very few software packages that come to mind that include all the features you're looking for. Take a look at some of the portal systems such as PostNuke. There are tons of modules out there, but also be cautious. Most OSS systems are still evolving, thus breaking backwards compatabilities. There is another option, and that's start with a blogging software and write or adapt the different parts you'll need. Either way, don't do a half-ass job at it (read quality control.

    The biggest problem I've fo
  • by abh ( 22332 ) <ahockley@gmail.com> on Saturday February 25, 2006 @03:22AM (#14799181) Homepage
    If you've identified that there's a need for this type of community (since you say there's no centralized source), then wouldn't you already know what information you want included?

    Building an online community is no different than building a successful website, successful blog, or successful discussion forum: you need to have something that differentiates you from the hundreds or thousands of other related websites out there. If you've identified something unique you can offer, or offer in a better way, then you've already answered your own question. If you just want another site to do the same things as existing sites, then you will fail.
    • All a site needs to grow is targeted traffic. You can slap together YATechMessageboard.com and spend an initial investment on traffic. Throw in a free t-shirt or caffeine breath mint promotion. The need to differentiate is a myth. Replicate content, buy traffic, count the money.

      You will fail? Absurd.
  • Perhaps this is off topic, as I have no suggestions for software features, but coincidentally, I'm currently engaged in a very spirited dialogue [slashdot.org] here on slashdot that addresses the treatment of novices or beginners who may not have enough experience to ask for what they really want in an online community. To address your question, I think whatever moderation system or customer support you may implement ought to make extra efforts to be inclusive and take care of the well-meaning but often clueless guys.
    • Perhaps this is off topic, as I have no suggestions for software features, but coincidentally, I'm currently engaged in a very spirited dialogue here on slashdot that addresses the treatment of novices or beginners who may not have enough experience to ask for what they really want in an online community

      If you're going to recommend that we read a dialogue then at least link to its root [slashdot.org] instead of your ending leaf.
      • A dialogue is an exchange between two voices (di - 2). Whereas the larger group discussion I was a part of addressed a newbie's experience level and the appropriateness of his somewhat basic question, my conversation specifically touched on the role of slashdot and the responsibility of the slashdot as a community. I felt my leaf more directly addressed the issue raised by the submitter, but no one is keeping you from reading the rest.
  • doh (Score:3, Funny)

    by slashdotnickname ( 882178 ) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @03:43AM (#14799210)
    Signs that your project to start an online technical community is off on the wrong foot:

    1) Ask an already established technical community "how to begin"
    2) Stating a goal of "generating buy-in from customers" in the same sentence that admits "features that are widely available in other [free] places"
    • 3) Turning to Ask Slashdot for reliable answers.
      • 1) Ask an already established technical community "how to begin"
        2) Stating a goal of "generating buy-in from customers" in the same sentence that admits "features that are widely available in other [free] places"
        3) Turning to Ask Slashdot for reliable answers.

        4) Asking the same thing twice...
        5) ???
        6) Profit! ;-)
  • Netnews is ideal for this sort of thing. Once users subscribe, they'll see new messages as they are added to any of the relevant groups. No need for complicated RSS feeds, no endless paging through blogs, and no struggling to get people to visit your web site frequently. Google will even archive and index your newsgroup for you.
  • Selling communities. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hitchhikerjim ( 152744 ) on Saturday February 25, 2006 @05:33AM (#14799412)
    "community" and "customers"

    sort of opposite concepts. In one, people are choosing to work together on something. in the other there's a central power who's trying to get a group to buy something.

    The biggest failure of "online communities" in the 'net days is that most of them are corporate sponsored marketing schemes rather than actual communities.
    • I don't think the two are completely mutually exclusive. Slashdot is both a business and a community, after all. But yeh, some people seem to not have their priorities straight.

      Me, I'm working on something I hope will eventually be a business of some sort, but it first needs to be a community. I think there have been exactly 3 posts on the forums in the month of beta testing I've done so far, and this is with something like 50 accounts out there. Maybe the commercial aspect scares them off, dunno.
  • Oblig. Answers (Score:1, Interesting)

    by DavidHOzAu ( 925585 )
    I'm involved with a project that is looking to develop an online community for technology oriented business customers.

    Sell your idea to ebay [ebay.com], they might like you. (and the highest bidder wins!)


    If you could develop an online community to encourage collaboration and information sharing, what features would you want included?

    That's easy, BitTorrent [bittorrent.com].


    How would you go about including features that are widely available in other places (weblogging, message boards, wiki) and generating buy-in fr
  • A forum looks like the most important for me for a community.

    The manual might come in a wiki structure giving people the opportunity to add their own observations.

    You might consider some blog like construction to give people a place to showcase what they have done with the technology.

  • The key to developing an effective online community is a compelling vision, a clear voice, great leadership and professional marketing and communications skills. look 5 years down the road to where online communities should be rather than the multitude of personal vanity sites currently so endemic among the wannabe digerati, commentators and 13-year-olds-seeking-attention of the world. These are the communities set in the same rigid plain bread template format that are currently clogging up the airwaves and
  • Sorry you got stuck with this. As a marketing effort, a "community" site is probably doomed.

    It's been done before.
    If your potential customers want to talk about [your product related things] they already are. Somwhere else. Getting them to migrate over to your (heavily moderated) community ain't going to happen.

    The marketing effort needs to have it's own marketing effort.
    Next, assuming that people want to have a community and don't, it takes a a critical mass of users congregating in the same pla

  • by cyranoVR ( 518628 ) * <.cyranoVR. .at. .gmail.com.> on Saturday February 25, 2006 @07:48PM (#14801947) Homepage Journal
    Lowtax, the mastermind behind Something Awful [www.somethingawful] recently gave a speech on this topic at the University of Illinois. His entire presentation is available online [somethingawful.com], and is definitely worth checking out.
  • forums are key (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BortQ ( 468164 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @05:51AM (#14803297) Homepage Journal
    I have found forums to be the key in the communities I participate in. You can build other things around them, but the forums are the bedrock. Other then that, check out what Guy Kawasaki has to say in: The Art of Creating a Community [guykawasaki.com]
  • Forget about it. You cannot build communities; communities build themselves. And as somebody else mentioned in these comments, if your community needs something from, needs something built, they'll let you know. They won't be shy about it. The fact that you have to ask here already means there is no basis for your "community".

    Also, if you want to do research into the needs of your target audience, you do not ask the readers of a website that subtitles itself News for Nerds what to do, unless you wish to st
  • Although there are various communities on the web, there is no centralized source of information for the customers. If you could develop an online community to encourage collaboration and information sharing, what features would you want included? How would you go about including features that are widely available in other places (weblogging, message boards, wiki) and generating buy-in from customers.

    Yikes. It sounds to me like you want to create something without any specific goal other than "creating a co

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