Forms of online community

Do you know what online community is? Can you recognize when you're really forming an online community? Let's go over a few examples so you can recognize it when the community is forming, in the hope that you will then be more easily able to manage the process.

In the 1990's when the Web was new, the marketeers noticed the stickiness effect. They wanted sticky visitors, because the longer a visitor stayed on the web site the more likely it was for them to click on an advertisement or take some other action to ring a cash register somewhere.

One way to get sticky visitors is offer them a way to talk with each other. For example I go
to the Motley Fool website every day to check the message boards there. That's loyalty and stickiness, and to the Fool I must be a very valuable customer.

Remember that community forms when you have people interacting together. Once the community forms the people will feel drawn to return to the meeting place, this is the lure of community. If you can nurture a positive and growing community, the community members will be loyal in returning regularly to your web site and spending lots of time there. You can then place products or other money-earning things in front of them, and some percentage will take advantage of the offers.

This is similar to the typical tavern operation. The tavern is simply a meeting place where people come to chat with one another, and the tavern owner earns the money required to keep the tavern open and feed him/herself through selling food and drink to the taverns visitors.

Mailing List

Build your own:


Email based exchange of discussion.

The list appears to be an email address, and any email sent to that address is redistributed to the members of the mailing list.

Lists can be moderated where every posting is approved by the moderator. Or lists can be open,
allowing any list member to post, or even allowing anybody to post.

Mailing lists are pretty old-hat compared to these other systems. I believe that so long as email remains as it is now, that mailing lists will continue to have a role.

Web-based forums




SK Forum


This is similar to the old-style bulletin board system but recast for the
Internet and web pages.

A forum is similar to a mailing list in that people exchange written postings. The difference is the postings are written through a web page, are visible on web pages, and generally do not go to ones email.

The 'Nuke clones


JBoss Nukes

PHP Nuke is a popular "portal" system and, somehow, the PHP Nuke project has spawned a large number of imitator projects.

Each has a similar feature set, hence being placed in the same category.

The main content of the site is a series of articles or news items posted by community members. Usually the community members can comment on the articles, which helps to create the community.

Usually a web-based forum package is integrated with these systems.

In the purpose of forming community, only the systems which have a member base who can talk to each other will foster the formation of a community.

Other content management systems








Many of the Nuke clones call themselves "content management system", and blogs are also examples of content management systems. Generally a CMS assists a webmaster in creating their website through automatically building up topic categories, providing templates for a common look across the site, and more.

CMS's are best used when you have multiple authors jointly creating the website.

In the purpose of forming community, only the systems which have a member base who can talk to each other will foster the formation of a community.

Some CMS's allow people to comment on the articles. Commenting on articles doesn't seem to me to be an efficient way to foster community, as the commenters usually aren't commenting to each other.


Blogs are the current hot phenomenon. There have been several high-profile blogging based events such as embarrassing, and causing the resignation of, several high ranking news media and government figures.

In the hype of the blogging craze the people seem to be losing sight of something. Blogs are simply websites.

Essentially a blog is a series of articles, with the web site arranging the articles to place the most recent one on top. Articles, posted in reverse chronological order. That's it.

I've written more about blogs here.

In the purpose of forming community, only the systems which have a member base who can talk to each other will foster the formation of a community. Blogs generally allow for commenting on blog entries, which seems to be an innefficient way of forming community.

On the other hand, what's happening in the "blogosphere", or the set of all blogging websites, is that the bloggers are talking to each other through their individual blogs. The community forming in the blogosphere isn't located on one website, but is instead structured between the blogs, and formed by the bloggers. A blogger might see an entry on anothers blog, and rather than comment on the other persons blog, they might comment on their own blog. Then through automatic trackback linking mechanisms the two blog entries can easily be linked to one another.






Wiki's are another happening phenomenon, but in a different way than blogs. Wiki's are a way of jointly creating documents that are uniquely different from all the other systems discussed on this page.

The word wiki is Hawaiian meaning "quick". The idea is you can quickly construct a website using a wiki. Basically you just write words, and the wiki system takes care of creating new pages, linking them together, and indexing them.

A common practice is that a CamelCaseWord, when entered in a wiki, will cause the wiki system to automatically create a new page. By "CamelCaseWord" we mean that you smash together several words, and use capital letters in the middle of the string of characters (the humps referrring to camels).

By automatically making pages it's real easy to link ideas together. Say while writing one article you have a brilliant idea, that's related-to but off topic for the current article. You can put a sentence in referring to the other topic, and make a CamelCase word for the topic. The wiki system automatically makes a new blank page from that CamelCase word that you can later fill in with another article.