Has the window for starting new online communties passed?
April 15, 2009 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Are new online communities still forming, or is that "window of opportunity" closed, now that a) so many online communities already exist ; b) it's easy for people to start their own blog/site, so they don't have the time or need for a new online community? If they are still forming, what are the critical ingredients for a new online community now?

I'm an expat, and I've lived abroad in several different countries. One of the most common forms of information sharing in all these places for expats is yahoo groups - amazingly, many among the somewhat older crowd haven't switched as much to web communities like metafilter, mostly stick with yahoo groups. Early adopters have started having their own blogs and sites, etc. I have one site that I think could be a useful one for expats in the Philippines (where I now live) but find that so far there are not many who even get the picture of what an online web community is - most expats simply stick with yahoo groups and a few (heavily censored, we're talking absolutely absurdly censored to the point of missing half the picture) web forums.

So the question is has the window for creating new online communities passed? If not, what's necessary for a new one now?

posted by peter_meta_kbd to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
1) Has the window passed? Hardly.
2) What's necessary? Something useful.

But then again, these aren't really the questions you should be asking yourself.

If you build it, and people need it, they will come. It's been that way forever.
Find a need, fill it.

1) What are you bringing to the table? Is it unique?
2) Has it been done before?
3) If so, how can you improve upon it? How can you bring your own personality to add something special?
4) Is it easy to use/navigate?
5) Is it for pleasure or for profit or a mixture of both? Are you willing to spend hours upon hours each day for zero money? Or for a site that may never break even or make a profit?

etc. etc.

They stick with yahoo groups because it's freakin' dead easy. Send emails. Get emails. Done. Self-created specific communities (such as ning) tend to get bogged down and crowded with posts, forums, videos, photos, blah, blah blah. KISS.

I'm not trying to be flippant here, but I think that the questions that you asked above aren't the important ones. You really need to dig deeper and figure out WHY you want to do this, and then start figuring out HOW.
posted by willmize at 7:59 AM on April 15, 2009

First you need a truckload of content. Put together everything you know about expat life in the Philippines. I recommend putting yourself on a strict content development schedule, and keep that schedule after the site has been launched. Maybe two pieces a week? Once you have a full site, you're ready to take the next step.

Don't put up any community tools right away. One thing that will send people packing is a dead community, a ghost town. You'll want to provide the interaction once there are enough people to insure it will take place.

Putting up quality content is only half the battle. People need to know you're there. If you look around, you'll find plenty of articles on different ways to promote your site. It's in your best interest to try every one of these, see what works, and do what works some more. The more people you can attract, the better your community will be.

When is the appropriate time to take the next step? I wish I could answer that one. It depends on the quality of the site, the popularity of the topic, and a lot of other things. This is where timing is important. A good indicator may be when you start receiving a great deal of site email.

When you decide to put up forums, prepare to spend some time with them. You need to do everything in your power to get them up and going. People are more likely to join in when there's already solid content intact. Established conversations entice participation.

Is it still viable? Probably, depending on the topic(s). How large is the expat community? What percentage of those expats can you expect to even find your web site? Is the content you offer enticing enough to generate discussion?
posted by netbros at 8:08 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

stackoverflow.com is an example of a large and successful community that was built within months, just last year. It targets a subject that most here would have assumed was well fulfilled: asking strangers questions. But the creators of Stack Overflow found their niche, brought something new to the table and did it well. So it is definitely possible. Hard, but possible.
posted by gmarceau at 8:50 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

> has the window for creating new online communities passed? If not, what's necessary for a new one now?

I don't think the window's passed, but the need to create new communities where existing communities thrive is minimal. If the need for a community is already satisfied it only needs to be superseded entirely if the existing community is failing in some quantifiable way.

If you can create a new online community that fulfills a new niche, give it a shot. Replicating or overlapping an existing community leads to competition which might be useful ('we discuss this township, they discuss the whole city') or might be self-defeating.
posted by ardgedee at 10:34 AM on April 15, 2009

People are creating new LiveJournal communities and new Facebook groups every day. New websites? Not so much, which does make it harder to monetize the whole schemozzle.

On the other hand, if you started a popular blog and attached forums, that might go over. The Comics Curmudgeon gets a lot of traffic, which seems surprising to people who don't understand how seriously some people take cartoon strips.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:01 AM on April 15, 2009

Has the window for creating new online communities passed?

Only if peoples interests have stopped changing or developing. Internet communities have been around for more than 20 years and people's interest and focus have changed a lot in that time. Also, as the demographics of online users change so do their needs. Right now the 'net is getting an influx of older people and 2nd world citizens. Certainly they have different desires for an online community than the computer nerds of 20 years ago, or the hipsters of 10 years ago, or the yuppies of five years ago or the teenagers of three years ago...

What's necessary for a new one now?

Meed an unmet need, or meet it better than an existing site. If you're not finding the community you want it's a good indication either you've found a good, unmet need or that you haven't done your research.

Oh, and good marketing. It's impossible to build an online community if no one knows about it.
posted by Ookseer at 12:17 PM on April 15, 2009

Creating a new blog or Yahoo group is creating a new online community.

Do you mean "are new online community infrastructure sites still forming?"

I think it's pretty clear that something shiny and new appears every few months. MySpace -> YouTube -> Blogger -> Facebook -> Twitter -> ?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:24 PM on April 15, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips and opinions. What I think we can offer is data that appears in searches through web portals (unlike yahoo groups where posts basically just have one short life as I wrote in a post on yahoo groups for search engines); without censorship based on the desire to mask reality (often because the website owner is running a real estate business); an interface that allows everyone to engage in the threads that interest them, rather than sorting through a thousand messages like on yahoo groups. Publicity is a bit tough, because expats tend to be independent, and of course the site can't be publicized on the other sites that are truly competition.
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 4:38 PM on April 15, 2009

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