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Build Community With Web Logs

  |  November 10, 1999   |  Comments

We've had plenty of discussion about Microsoft. From the moment of decision all the way through the weekend, sites like SlashDot have been burning up the wires with analysis, opinion, and loads of nifty news tidbits from legions of hard working geeks. An amazing example of sociomedia, "socially constructed media grown out of online collaboration." Enter Web Logs, a cross between a bulletin board and a link list that results in a shared portal-building/media creating frenzy.

Just to put you all at ease... No, I'm not going to discuss Microsoft this week.

There's been plenty of discussion about it already all over the Net. From the first minute of the decision all the way through the weekend, sites like SlashDot have been burning up the wires with analysis, opinion, and loads of nifty news tidbits contributed by legions of hard working geeks (and I use that term affectionately).

It's all led to an amazing example of sociomedia, or as cyber-luminary Gareth Branwyn describes it, "socially constructed media that is grown out of online collaboration."

But what does this mean to web marketers like you?

Well, we've all known since John Hagel published Net Gain in 1997 that community and commerce go hand-in-hand on the Net. The concept of "stickiness" so coveted by web retailers and portals rests firmly in the hope that getting people to come to your site and staying there is essential to developing satisfied and long-term customers.

Many sites desperately try to create some sort of bogus "community" by tacking on a chat board or (and this really blows my mind) offering portal-like perks like free email. Free email? As if I want my loved ones to know that I'm sending them greetings from sean@biguglycorporation.com. Yeah, that's inspiring.

No, to truly generate a sense of community, you need to create a shared sense of purpose, a reason to come back to the site that moves beyond users chattering about their problems. There are plenty of online customer service management tools (for a good one check out Right Now Technologies' Right Now Web), and these are great for managing support questions and answers.

But sometimes people want to come back for information on more than your products and services. Sometimes they want to expand their range beyond your products and into the rest of the web. Enter Web Logs.

Web Logs have been around for a while in the form of "link lists," but have really taken off recently as ways of creating community around the shared interests of the Blog's members. Sort of a cross between a bulletin board and a link list, Web Logs let people post commentary and web sites in a sort of shared portal-building/media creating frenzy.

Not exactly sure what I'm talking about? Check out the Blog Portal, an incredible list of all the Web Logs out there.

Much like the sociomedia that is SlashDot, these Web Logs consist of shared input from thousands of people on subjects as diverse as news, technology, finance, medicine, and fringe culture. They all bring news and community and web surfing together into an incredible amalgam of content and will be sure to supply you with enough surfing' for a good long time.

From a web marketing standpoint, Web Logs represent several opportunities. First, if your PR folks aren't cruising the Blogs to find out what your customers are doing and posting some info of their own, you're missing out on a great opportunity to do some insightful customer research and a little bit of "ambient marketing."

If you're a web marketer running a site, Blogs organized around your industry can be a great way of building community and buzz about your site. As blockbuster sites like VerticalNet have shown, combining information with community can be a powerful mix. Creating your own Web Log for your product can let you combine customer support with customer input and vertical market news in one compelling package.

Want to try creating your own Web Logs? Many folks have created custom software for their own sites, but if you don't want to deal with complicated server setups and custom development, check out Blogger, a web-based tool for dynamic content publishing that lets you post your own Web Logs without installing any software on your site.

Essentially a simple posting and archiving program, Blogger lets you get input from your customers/members via email, decide which ones should be posted, and then posts them to your site with the click of a mouse. My favorite part of Blogger is that it'll post its Blog using your own site templates Web Logs look just like the rest of your site and reside on your FTP server.

Don't underestimate the power of community. As a way to generate traffic, repeat visits, and good will amongst your users, it's pretty tough to beat. Web Logs are one relatively new way of jumpstarting community on your site.

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Sean Carton

Sean Carton has recently been appointed to develop the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce, and Culture at the University of Baltimore and is chief creative officer at idfive in Baltimore. He was formerly the dean of Philadelphia University's School of Design + Media and chief experience officer at Carton Donofrio Partners, Inc.

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