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Community Networks and Websites? 155

brendano writes "I've been doing some research into the fascinating world of community networks and websites -- online places that can inform and connect people of a real-life community. They typically provide news, discussion forums, and email for local residents. There are some quite successful ones (such as the nonprofit Seattle Community Network or the Blacksburg Electronic Village), but also also ghost town-like failures that show how hard it is to get a community network/website rolling. In addition, many struggle with questions of how to get funding; whether they can be for-profit while serving the community, or be non-profit with enough money to keep going. Unlike the wireless community networks we hear about so much, these types of community networks go beyond just internet access and try to provide access to the community itself. Some, even, are being done to help build up disenfranchised communities, such as one in a housing project, or the three of HP's Digital Village project (one of whose projects I'm researching for.) I was wondering if members of the Slashdot community know of more examples of community networks, and what people think of these projects. Can real-life communities succeed in the online environment as well? How so?"
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Community Networks and Websites?

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  • It seems to me an initial problem is that, by definition, the "community website" is only going to be used by people who like to use websites. Now, everyone reading/posting here is obviously part of that group. And hardcore to boot. But I wonder just how large a part it is, of the geographic community. It seems it'll cut-out almost everyone older, busy, or just not interested in playing with tech-toys.

    If the community has a lot of younger professionals, maybe it works. But if there are a lot of older retirees, maybe it doesn't.

    Sig: What Happened To The Censorware Project (censorware.org) [sethf.com]

  • We started a humor based community, catering towards Indian's in 1999. It has been very sucessful in terms of creating a hangout for Indians to share jokes and humor. Commercially.. we made a fair bit of money during the dot-com boom. Right now we've been reduced to using affiliate programs. The site is on Gandmasti.Com [gandmasti.com]

    We then started a community website for Indian's in Hong Kong on hkindians.com [hkindians.com] and this has also been sucessful... even though we don't spend a cent on advertising, these community websites are very viral. People in the community (depending on how targetted your definition of community is) will talk about it and will spread the word. It is then up to you to make the money.

    Here's my take on what it takes...

    a) Building a community takes a lot of hard work. You genuinely have to be interested in networking with the people and getting to know people. You have to be prepared to answer tons of questions and deal with a lot of trivial (to you as a webmaster) issues. It is not easy.

    b) Once you've got a few hundred people rolling, take some time and figure out what they purchase, who are the people who want to target them and try to bring the two together. On HKIndians.Com we are working currently with a couple of local insurance providers and a long distance call broker. We have had sponsorships from local cable companies who want to target new channels to the Indian community. There is money to be made.. just not dot-com millions. Don't give up your day job.

    c) This is very important... don't loose your passion for the community. Once you do.. others will sense your disinterest and loose their interest.. this will happen very quickly.

    On well .. just some random thoughts. :)

  • Freenets (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:17PM (#3467917)
    Freenets (no, not the peer-to-peer who stole the name) have been offering community access and news for over a decade (albeit dial-only access). The National Capital Freenet (http://www.ncf.ca/) has been in existance since 91/92 and is still in operation today, still as a not-for-profit organisation.

    They offer access, local newsgroups (SIGs), internet access, etc.. etc.. etc...

    At one time there were almost a hundred Freenets around, but only a handful are left. They offered internet access (gopher, telnet, newsgroups, IRC) even before the Internet was commercialized. For many, Freenets was the first taste of the Internet (myself included).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 05, 2002 @11:26PM (#3467934)
    Nice to see the moderators are on crack again.. Somebody says online communities are bad because you should get out into "real life". Somebody says that online communities helped them do more "real life" stuff with more people, and that's off topic?
  • by caferace ( 442 ) on Monday May 06, 2002 @12:44AM (#3468124) Homepage
    Good god. You sir will be consumed alive by your buzzwords. Do you listen to yourself?

    Trust me.... Literacy and marketing do not mix well.

Real Programmers don't write in PL/I. PL/I is for programmers who can't decide whether to write in COBOL or FORTRAN.