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Murray Gibbins Murray@scotweb.ltd.uk
Thu, 25 Jan 2001 16:08:55 +0000


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</A> <B>Posted by <A HREF="mailto:jonkatz@slashdot.org">JonKatz</A>  on  Thursday January 25, @10:30AM</B><BR>
<FONT size=2><B>from the -people-people-people-trust-trust-trust- dept.</B></FONT><BR>
Do you feel like you belong in many -- any -- Web communities? Lots of people and companies try and  host successful Websites, but few pull it off. Cliff Figallo has helped do it three different times, and has written a workmanlike, useful book about what it takes -- good design, time, patience, great software, trust and the right people. He never loses sight of what the user wants and needs. Here is a review of <i>Hosting Web Communities</i>, on how to build  enduring and yes, profitable communities online. (Read more below.)<p>
<TABLE border=0 cellspacing=0 cellpadding=2><TR><TD colspan=2 align=right bgcolor=#006666><FONT color=#FFFFFF><B>Title:Hosting Web Communities: Increasing Customer Loyalty and Mainta </B></FONT></TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=#006666><FONT color=#FFFFFF><B>author   </B></FONT></TD><TD bgcolor=#CCCCCC>Cliff Figallo   </TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=#006666><FONT color=#FFFFFF><B>publisher </B></FONT></TD><TD bgcolor=#CCCCCC>Wiley</TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=#006666><FONT color=#FFFFFF><B>ISBN     </B></FONT></TD><TD bgcolor=#CCCCCC>0-471-28293-6</TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=#006666><FONT color=#FFFFFF><B>pages    </B></FONT></TD><TD bgcolor=#CCCCCC>448    </TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=#006666><FONT color=#FFFFFF><B>rating   </B></FONT></TD><TD bgcolor=#CCCCCC>7/10   </TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=#006666><FONT color=#FFFFFF><B>summary  </B></FONT></TD><TD bgcolor=#CCCCCC>It takes people and trust to build a community site   </TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=#006666><FONT color=#FFFFFF><B>reviewer </B></FONT></TD><TD bgcolor=#CCCCCC>Jon Katz   </TD></TR>

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<p>
<img src="http://www.thinkgeek.com/images/home/3222.jpg">

<p>
Creating Web communities on the Net is one of the more  important social and business challenges of our time, but few people or companies seem to know how to do it with skill.
<p>
Into the fray comes Cliff Figallo, author of the useful no-nonsense <i>Hosting Web Communities: Building Relationships, Increasing Customer Loyalty, and Maintaining a Competitive Edge,</i> from Wiley.
<p>
Like many books about the Net these days, this one is cast in part as a business tool, probably for marketing reasons. And no doubt it will  help individuals and companies -- especially small ones -- who want to establish viable Web communities.
<p>
But despite the practical packaging, the book takes aim at anybody who wants to join or run one. 
<p>
Figallo knows whereof he speaks. Director of Community Development for <i>Salon</i> and its Table Talk discussion site, he spent six years as director of the <a href="http://www.well.org">The WELL</a>, arguably the world's most influential and enduring virtual community. Figallo also helped develop AOL's first chat interface, "Virtual Places." That would put him in three especially coherent, community-minded Web enterprises. 
<p>
Hosting a successful, bona fide Web community is rough. 
<p>
As Figallo notes in his introduction, three themes recur: "The first is that community is a social constant looking to take hold in an environment of unrelenting change. The second is that trust is essential for community to happen. And the third is that meaningful relationships, far more than size, determine the success of online communities." Figallo's gift is that he sees the web community clearly from every perspective: host, user, designer, businessperson. He understands that at some point, community has to pay the bills in order to survive.
<p>
What is an online community? The word gets tossed around so much that, Figallo points out,  the very term "virtual community" has been reduced to meaningless jargon. "A sense of belonging," is his answer. "Unless that feeling is there, no manager, advertiser, or promoter can claim the presence of community, no matter how much commonality exists in the users' interests and demographics."
<p>
"Community" is not synonymous with "harmony." Virtual communities don't have to be cheerful and sweet. But users must feel included. If you feel like you're part of a Web community, Figallo argues, you  probably are.
<p>
 Authoritative and common sensical, Figallo draws heavily on his own experience and scores of examples to make his case about flow, interface and atmosphere, helpfully backing up every point with illustrative URL's and examples. 
<p>
He also offers counsel on how to preserve free speech and other online values while curbing the endemic flaming and erratic communications styles that have done in too many Web communities.
<p>
Hosts are essential to the building of relationships, he insists. They not only openly maintain the meeeting place -- arranging chat room schedules, starting and naming new discussion topics, keeping order and serving as librarian for online resources -- but they also act as "social adhesives" between the people who meet there. They help create certain essentials, including an interwoven web of relationships that last through time. 
<p>
"Where these attributes exist," writes Figallo,"they solidify loyalty to the group and, therefore, to the Web site that support its activities. Members return regularly and in doing so, affirm the feeling that they belong, and maintain the relationship identified with the site. They come back because they are rewarded for doing so with valued facts, feelings, advice and opinions. As time passes, they help construct a history that is shared with others, adding to the feeling that they are part of some greater entity."
<p>
Figallo has come closer than most people in recent memory to defining the social structure that has to occur -- in conjunction with the design, interface and configurations he also outlines -- before the term "community" has any real meaning in connection with cyberspace.
<p>
One interesting chapter focuses on gathering business clientele into communities. Small business sites selling specialty items have become the mom-and-pop stores on the Internet, Figallo  writes, selling to customers who can now be found anywhere there's a dial-up connection. Although companies like Amazon get most of the attention, the Net has spawned thousands of electronic shops, and it's reasonable, even necessary for these entrepeneurs to see their customers as members of "communities," because they want them to keep on returning. 
<p>
In the past decade, countless "communities" have cluttered the Net, but only a handful are memorable, effective, or enduring. Figallo's publisher undoubtedly thought it could snare an audience by presenting the book so distinctly in business terms, but don't be put off by that.
<p>
This is a strong, convincing look at what it really takes to build enduring and yes, profitable communities online: the deployment of software and architecture and, above all, people, that permits humans to get to know one another and to keep coming back. <p>

<hr>

You can <a href="http://www.thinkgeek.com/home.shtml?3222">purchase this book</a> from <a href="http://thinkgeek.com">ThinkGeek</a>. 
<P><P> &lt;&nbsp; <A HREF="http://slashdot.org/articles/01/01/25/1343218.shtml">DirecTV's Secret War On Hackers</A> <P>&nbsp;</TD><TD>&nbsp;</TD><TD VALIGN="TOP">
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</TR><TR><TD bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><FONT color="#000000" size=2><LI><A href="http://www.well.org">The WELL</A></LI>
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</TR><TR><TD bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><FONT color="#000000" size=2><p>Peter Wayner has written <a href="http://slashdot.org/books/00/08/24/1434210.shtml">Free For All</a> a book that explores Free Software, the history, and where it's going.
<p>If you are trying to learn the the ideas behind digital security, check out <a href="http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=00/09/17/1311241&mode=nested">Secrets & Lies</a>, the latest book by Bruce Schneier.
<p>Danny Yee did reviews <a href="http://slashdot.org/books/00/08/31/137234.shtml">of a couple PHP</a> books.  With so many people using PHP, it always pays to know more.
<P>Lastly, Jon Lasser has written <a href="http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=00/09/10/0013219&mode=nested">Think Unix</a>, a book designed around making people understand the concepts behind Unix.
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<B>Update: 9/21 13:19</B> by <B><A href=mailto:hemos@slashdot.org>H</A></B>:</FONT></TD>
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<A name="3"><B>It's hard to find one that works</B></A>  (Score:4, Insightful)<BR>
by Rurik on Thursday January 25, @10:43AM EST
(<A href="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&cid=3">#3</A>)<BR>
(<A HREF="http://slashdot.org/users.pl?op=userinfo&nick=Rurik">User #113882 Info</A>)
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<TR><TD bgcolor=ffffff>There are many sites that try to be too general.  Like, a website community for the elderly, or for mothers.  Well, when you get that general, there are 2000+ other sites that gearing for the same audience.  You have to specialize in a single field, that doesn't rely on age, and have it be one where people want to check frequently for more information or help.  One that I like to participate in is for Ford Ranger owners.  A site where anyone of any age or sex can just talk about trucks, speed, modifications, cops, etc.  You want to keep visiting because you want to see what the newest products are, and the newest trends to incorporate on.
<BR>You have to create a community based around something that people have pride in, rather it be their vehicles, their computers (hardocp), their homes, their stereos, etc.  Regular 'teen hangout' communities are dying by the wayside because they just throw a thousand people into the mix and let them bleah on forever.<BR></TD></TR>

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		<LI><A HREF="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&threshold=1&commentsort=0&mode=thread&pid=3#10">Re:It's hard to find one that works</A> by NineNine <FONT SIZE="-1">(Score:1)</FONT>  <FONT SIZE="-1"> Thursday January 25, @10:51AM EST </FONT>


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		<LI><A HREF="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&threshold=1&commentsort=0&mode=thread&pid=10#16">Re:It's hard to find one that works</A> by Rurik <FONT SIZE="-1">(Score:1)</FONT>  <FONT SIZE="-1"> Thursday January 25, @11:02AM EST </FONT>

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<A name="4"><B>Slashdot?</B></A>  (Score:1)<BR>
by <A HREF="mailto:bigd@theopenwindow.org">BigumD</A>
<B><FONT SIZE="2">(bigd@theopenwindow.org)</FONT></B>
 on Thursday January 25, @10:45AM EST
(<A href="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&cid=4">#4</A>)<BR>
(<A HREF="http://slashdot.org/users.pl?op=userinfo&nick=BigumD">User #219816 Info</A>)
 <A HREF="http://www.theopenwindow.org">http://www.theopenwindow.org</A><BR></TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=ffffff><I>They not only openly maintain the meeeting place --  but they also act as "social adhesives" between the people who meet there.</I> <P>

By the author's definition, I can't belive that <A HREF="http://www.slashdot.org">Slashdot</A> wasn't included in this book...<P><BR>--The space between my ears was intentionally left blank--</TD></TR>

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<A name="6"><B>Formula?</B></A>  (Score:2, Insightful)<BR>
by TheOutlawTorn on Thursday January 25, @10:46AM EST
(<A href="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&cid=6">#6</A>)<BR>
(<A HREF="http://slashdot.org/users.pl?op=userinfo&nick=TheOutlawTorn">User #192318 Info</A>)
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<TR><TD bgcolor=ffffff>I have reservations about any book that claims to be able to define a "successful" web community, let alone how to duplicate that success.  The most successful web communities seem to be happy accidents (see userfriendly and this esteemed site)<BR> <BR>
<BR><P>
<B>"And if I close my mind in fear, please pry it open"</B></TD></TR>

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<A name="8"><B>Do we have this?</B></A>  (Score:1)<BR>
by <A HREF="mailto:mnoelharris@(onmaps)ursine.dyndns.org">Glowing Fish</A>
<B><FONT SIZE="2">(mnoelharris@(onmaps)ursine.dyndns.org)</FONT></B>
 on Thursday January 25, @10:47AM EST
(<A href="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&cid=8">#8</A>)<BR>
(<A HREF="http://slashdot.org/users.pl?op=userinfo&nick=Glowing%20Fish">User #155236 Info</A>)
 <A HREF="http://ursine.dyndns.org/~mnoelharris">http://ursine.dyndns.org/~mnoelharris</A><BR></TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=ffffff><I> including an interwoven web of relationships that last through time </I>
<P>
How many of you have a relationship with other members on Slashdot? It seems that Slashdot seems to have a set of phrases and jokes that we can use to communicate with each other, but do any of us really have a relationship with each other? 
</P>
<P> and if we do, does that mean we are going to have to start remembering each others birthdays, and having phone conversations where we yell at each other?
</P>

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<LI><FONT SIZE="2"><B> <A HREF="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&threshold=-1&commentsort=0&mode=thread&pid=8">1 reply</A>
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<A name="11"><B>Service</B></A>  (Score:2)<BR>
by cowscows on Thursday January 25, @10:52AM EST
(<A href="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&cid=11">#11</A>)<BR>
(<A HREF="http://slashdot.org/users.pl?op=userinfo&nick=cowscows">User #103644 Info</A>)
 <A HREF="http://shawn.redhive.com">http://shawn.redhive.com</A><BR></TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=ffffff>I think it's important to try less to create a community, and more to just think of it as offering a service to people, and you're just providing the space for them to make the community. 
<P> The userbase is far more important than the actual site, and the people running it need to know that. I'd imagine most people that read /. on a regular basis find the threads far more interesting than the articles themselves. The articles should be seen as just a foundation for discussion. Indeed most of the criticism that I see here about /. is started when the people running the site use their article postings as a chance to influence others with their own thoughts on the front page, rather than discuss it with the 'masses' in the threads.
 <P>I haven't been with /. since the beginning, only the past two years or so, so I can't really comment on the initial growing pains/patterns. But another communitish site that has been doing well that I have been participating in from early on, <A>href="http://www.livejournal.com">livejournal</A>, has been extremely good about implementing the users requests, and gaining a lot of loyalty. The admins realize that their users are the livelyhood, their best and only real advertising is word of mouth, and that the users will define what the community is, and their job is just to make sure the servers can handle it. They go so far as to encourage related software development from the userbase. 
<P> It seems to me that /. as a community sort of suffers from too singular a mentality in the leadership, clashing with a more varied and diverse user base than they imagine. Things like the relentless microsoft bashing and shameless linux promotion from the very people running the site seem to alienate many of the intelligent readers, just go through the threads about MS' DNS servers going down on wednesday. The usual argument is, it's taco's site, he can do whatever the hell he wants. That's ok, but /. presents itself as a community, which is more than just a website, and if it wants to continue to nurture that, it has to realize that it's serving other people now, not its creator.<BR></TD></TR>

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		<LI><A HREF="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&threshold=1&commentsort=0&mode=thread&pid=11#12">Re:Service</A> by cowscows <FONT SIZE="-1">(Score:1)</FONT>  <FONT SIZE="-1"> Thursday January 25, @10:53AM EST </FONT>

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<A name="13"><B>online communities:</B></A>  (Score:2)<BR>
by <A HREF="mailto:maeryk@fast.net">Maeryk</A>
<B><FONT SIZE="2">(maeryk@fast.net)</FONT></B>
 on Thursday January 25, @10:55AM EST
(<A href="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&cid=13">#13</A>)<BR>
(<A HREF="http://slashdot.org/users.pl?op=userinfo&nick=Maeryk">User #87865 Info</A>)
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<TR><TD bgcolor=ffffff>1) streamline it.. i dont want to click through a million and a half checkboxes and free emails and popup banners to get to where I am trying to go. Try having the wigs that come up with your web concept actually *use* the sucker a few times before releasing it.
<BR>
<BR>2) KISS.. not everyone on the net is a techno-genius.. 
<BR>
<BR>3) Be realistic in your claims. 
<BR>
<BR>4) Have some kind of content review, so that people who go there can have other things removed if they dont like them. I am not advocating "censorship" per se.. but I am advocating that I am not going to hang out on an online community that has five health rooms, and a white power room right next to it. No-one is saying you cant say waht you want, just not *here*
<BR>
<BR>5) Take some responsibility for your hosting/setup.
<BR>I used to hang out in an EFNET channel that was the closest thing I have ever seen to a "virtual community".. we had births, we had deaths, we had marriages (mine among them) between regulars.. it was *wonderful*.. parties, etc.. but the line got blurred when some people let the power get to their heads.. 
<BR>
<BR>6) make it available to people who want to have *fun*.. if you have moderators, give them guidelines, put pick people with a good sense of humor.. not people who will remove you because they dont like your nick, your religious choice, or your jokes.. (within reason.. see # 4)
<BR>
<BR>Thats my recipe.. can anyone implement it? In todays day of litigation and corporate fear of the former, probably not.
<BR>
<BR>Maeryk
<BR><BR>"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." -S. G. Tallentyre
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<A name="17"><B>I'm skeptical.</B></A>  (Score:2)<BR>
by <A HREF="mailto:anton@NOcatalystSPAMinternet.com">Tony Shepps</A>
<B><FONT SIZE="2">(anton@NOcatalystSPAMinternet.com)</FONT></B>
 on Thursday January 25, @11:03AM EST
(<A href="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&cid=17">#17</A>)<BR>
(<A HREF="http://slashdot.org/users.pl?op=userinfo&nick=Tony%20Shepps">User #333 Info</A>)
 <A HREF="http://www.cellar.org/">http://www.cellar.org/</A><BR></TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=ffffff>The guy's heritage with the WELL is not questionable, but I'm going to remain officially skeptical about the idea that commercial enterprises can just follow some guy's advice and build a functioning community.
<P>
People don't generally want to participate in a venture whose sole role is to make some other a$$hole wealthy; and hey, that's appropriate.  People's own interests have to be taken into account.  There has to be an emormously strong draw, a type of community that can't be found elsewhere.  The geek community that makes up /., the intelligent nouveau liberals that makes up salon.com's table talk, etc.  And even in these two cases, the commercial aspects have largely been focused elsewhere at the time the community started.
<P>Communities have to feel free to post whatever they want, whenever they want, for example, to truly be effective at being communities.  Commercial ventures won't withstand that sort of thing.  They have to allow endless criticism of themselves, their products, their staff, their management... how many public companies would go for that?
<P>
Communities have to feel that they will continue to exist, that their feet won't be pulled out from under them because the last quarter was a bad one or because their favorite moderator was laid off.
<P>
Take a look at 
<A HREF="http://www.vbulletin.com/links.php">
this list of mostly-successful communities running vBulletin</A> and see how many are commercial in nature.  There's a reason for that!
<P>
There's a reason why I wrote my sig the way I did -- and BTW, I wrote this sig a week ago, so this is not just some self-serving situation.  My own community is over ten years old, having survived as a local BBS, a netted BBS, a telnet BBS and now finally (as of a week ago) a web-based community.  Some of the people there have been there since the inception.  If it successfully makes the transition to web-based community, it will be because the users wanted it, not me.  And that's my final point: you simply can't force community into existence!
<BR><BR> <I>No biz plan, no ads, just literate conversation since 1990: <A HREF="http://www.cellar.org">The Cellar</A> </I></TD></TR>

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<A name="19"><B>I wouldn't count Virtual Places as a success</B></A>  (Score:1)<BR>
by company nuncio on Thursday January 25, @11:07AM EST
(<A href="http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=01/01/09/2055237&cid=19">#19</A>)<BR>
(<A HREF="http://slashdot.org/users.pl?op=userinfo&nick=company%20nuncio">User #29090 Info</A>)
 </TD></TR>
<TR><TD bgcolor=ffffff><B>Figallo also helped develop AOL's first chat interface, "Virtual Places." </B>
<BR> <BR>
Good on him for work on The Well (I was a member there for years in the late 80s early 90s), but Virtual Places wasn't nearly AOL's first chat interface.
<BR> <BR>
Virtual Places basically put some pictures around a web-based text chatroom.  Zzzzz.  I guess it was successful, if only to the people who sold it to AOL...<BR></TD></TR>

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