In October I posed the question about whether the online community model could evolve to associate blogs on a particular niche under a common umbrella. Jim Forbes and Chris Shipley (the duo who hosted the Demo conferences), had some suggestions.
The evolution of online community from USENET to hosted bulletin boards has, to some degree, stabilized over the past five years thanks to tools such as Ultimate BB, vBulletin, and a host of other fungible threaded tools that have brought some order to communities by providing their administrators and moderators with the tools that were sorely lacking in the mid-90s, when kludge systems such as HyperMail left moderators with few defenses again flame wars, etc.
My lack of familiarity with the web blog universe may work to my advantage in postulating that online publishers, or hosts of niche communities, can offer their users blogs and then, in the editorial role as a “meta blog” drive traffic to the individual blogs by aggregating the daily postings through category specific pages — obviating the need for less technically inclined users to configure a feed reader (which is still a bit of a daunting challenge for many users).
RSS lends itself not only to broadcast notification, but to the dynamic update of pages on a particular topic, if the individual bloggers can be conditioned to tick off the appropriate category.
Economically, the publisher can hard code the blog templates with the usual mercenary includes from Google AdSense to BlogAds to whatever the advertising model of the day is, and harvest the pennies. What needs to emerge is a tracking mechanism on the back end that will permit a split of those revenues with the bloggers.
The symbosis between blogger and publisher is simple — the blogger creates content which creates page views which yield impressions and click throughs. The publisher, if they are established enough, furnishes the community and traffic to light up the blogs.
Harkening to the Beatles lyric from Eleanor Rigby– “all the lonely people …” — an essential shortcoming of blogs is their one-way posting. I still fail, RSS feeds aside, to see what truly differentiates the typical personal blog from a Geocities or Anglefire page. Comment functions are a massive pain to manage due to comment spam. I receive a dozen notifications a day from Poker Palace.com or whatever scum is out there crawling my blog, to approve some heinous piece of crap. Blogs are not the next generation of a threaded bulletin board. However, a community of blogs — a set of silos under a common passion — could thrive if a couple tools were to be developed. Sure, the existing model of posting logs to friends or related blogs, is one step, but there is no real conduits — other than feed readers — to bring them together. Many blogs, to me, read like people talking to themselves. Quality will win out, and many have attracted significant audiences due to the quality of their content, the reputation of their owners, and the frequency of their postings. Somewhere there is a model to jumpstart an audience and I think that is the concept of the meta-blog.
Let’s for argument say bicyclists who like to drink beer are drawn to a particular niche site. For years they have regaled each other with bulletin board postings about riding bikes while drunk in a standard threaded BBS. They upload pictures of their bike, they post links to funny stories about other people drinking and riding bikes, and maybe the host of the BBS publishes a gallery of bike pictures, some articles about how to beat a breathlyzer test or evade police roadblocks.
Now say the publisher offers the faithful regulars the tools to manage their own blog. The publisher cracks the backend issues of how to automate the opening of a blog, figures out the legal issue of who owns the content, brands the template so his site is always hardcoded, adds some ad tags, develops a terms of service agreement so the bloggers don’t commit some heinous act of libel, and then turns it loose.
Ten drunk bicycle riders open their blogs. Name them, add links to the other nine blogs, and start posting.
The publisher then hosts a page which automatically is updated — like a newsfeed reader — with links to new postings. Those postings can be categorized — beer, bikes, bike parts, etc.
The better the tools for interconnecting the individual blogs, for publishing the “meta-blogs”, and, I think, the continued hosting of the BBS for those who are not inclined to blog (lurkers still dominate posters by a three-to-one ratio) could create the next generation of online communities.
I have such a scheme in development which will be unveiled in a month or two. A sneak peak is available here.
Niche communities are, I think, an organic phenemenon that spring up around passions. This is no different than an “enthusiast” or trade magazine, say Stereo Review or Water and Wastes Digest, where the subscribers, paid or qualified, flock to the content and the advertising out of professional or pure “pornographic” interest. Publishers or corporations that have tried to force the concept of community on their customers and subscribers, generally fail. We tried to go down the community path at Forbes.com by partnering with Raging Bull in the hope that the common community glue was ownership in a stock or mutual fund. The Forbes brand, I think, is too global and too broad, to build the passion that a weird little site like Fixed Gear Gallery engenders in its users.
There is no magic ingredient in building a community other than passion and good tools. Any hint of overcommercialism on the part of the host, any lapses in strict and transparent moderation will usually lead to rejection.
Bringing blogs into the equation — if the host publisher plays the role of aggregator, encourager, technical supporter, and ultimately, commercial partner — could, I think, mark the next big era in online communities.
Whoa. Thanks to my Google ad a link to “CheBlogs: A Left-Leaning Community With Room for Everybody” popped up. This is sort of what I am talking about. Woikers of the World Unite.