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Building An Online Community
Article by: Peter Go

What makes web sites like Yahoo! and Excite thrive with thousands upon thousands of visitors everyday? For one, they've been around the web a lot longer than others have. But I think the main reason why they have been very successful is because they have a loyal following. People who visit these sites often go back again and again and again. It's almost like they live in Yahoo! or Excite. To a certain extent, that statement is true.

Simple Idea
The success of Yahoo! and Excite are built around the community model. The main idea is quite simple - if there is enough reason for people to converge at a particular web venue, success is inevitable. The community model, if handled properly, leads to a critical mass which in turn leads to revenues. Revenue can come in the form of advertising dollars, product sales, or partnerships with other web sites.

Reality Check
So is building an online community really that simple? Well, to qualify my earlier statement, I said the "idea" is simple. Planning and building takes more time and effort. They also require some capital. To put things in perspective, let's focus on something on a smaller scale.

Like a neighborhood community, an online community can start with a small core group. If you have any special interest or hobby, you can build a community around that. If for example, your biggest hobby is hot rodding, you may want to start a community built around other hot rod enthusiasts.

Where To Start
The first an most important thing I can recommend is to acquire a domain name. A domain name gives the impression that you are an entity that has intentions of staying around for a long time. Do not settle for free web spaces and redirection services. Invest on a good domain name and have your web site hosted on by real web host. If your budget is quite tight, look for cheap hosting. But still, get a real hosting provider. BudgetWebHost.com offers a very good hosting package for start-ups and is worth checking out.

What Next?
A good way to start is by offering a venue where your fellow hot rod enthusiasts can interact. A message board would serve this purpose perfectly. You can even divide your board into various topics like perhaps parts manufacturers, brands, custom builders, clubs, etc.

Adding a chat room would also fit in well into the community model. Regular visitors like getting acquainted with other people who share the same interests. A chat room adds a more personal level of interaction more than a message board so this is something also worth considering.

Another nice add-on to your community would be a free email account. Let's say you registered your domain as imahotrodder.com (which incidentally is still available as of this writing). You might want to offer your visitors to sign up for a free email account in the format of name@ imahotrodder.com. See the advantage of owning a domain name?

How To Set These Up
OK, so you've registered a domain and have decided that you want to offer a message board, a chat room, and free email accounts on your hot rod community site. The next step is to add these features to your web site.

Message Boards and Chat are CGI programs that you can set up on your web server. These programs may be obtained for free if you know where to look. Browse through our listing under Message Boards and Chat and you'll be able to choose from a variety of sources. Many are free, but those that have more features may cost you some money. Setting these up require some programming knowledge on your part. If you don't have any programming proficiency at all, you may want to inquire with the developer of the software regarding having them set it up for you. Another way of course, is to hire CGI City to set them up for you :-)

There Must Be An Easier Way
If setting up a CGI message board is not your strongest feature and hiring a programmer for installation is not on your budget, what other options do you have?

Everyone.Net's Plug-in-Email let's you offer a full-featured email service on your site, giving your visitors email addresses @yourdomain and a reason to keep coming back day after day. Everyone.Net's Plug-in-Community is a meta-service that adds message board, chat and other services throughout your site enabling your visitors to interact and form a community. All services are free, customizable, and fast to set up.

Ensure Revisits
Once you have your small community site all set up, attend to it regularly. Watch the message boards and make sure that the items posted are relevant to the section topic. You wouldn't want your boards flooded with useless spam and unsolicited advertisements. A board that is filled with nothing but blatant ads usually do not encourage repeat visits. Make sure you have the rules clearly posted for everyone to see and enforce them. Remember, it's your domain and it's your community.

Related Links

  • BudgetWebHost.com - offers 100MB hosting for only $100 per year. You even get a free domain name.
  • Everyone.Net - offers plug-in community solutions including free email, message board, chat, and many others.
  • Ultimate Bulletin Board - full-featured bulletin board program.

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About the Author:
Peter Go owns and operates Icthus.Net Communications. CGI City is one of several web sites developed by Icthus.Net Communications.

Articles contained herein are copyright © CGI City unless stated otherwise.

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