Strengthening the sense of community on a website

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Ah, Monday morning, the best time to ignore anything urgent sitting on
your desk and post in the newsgroups trying to avoid the coming week of
grueling work, so here's a post to hopefully generate some discussion.

As stated in my other post ("Dynamic vs. static publishing"), I run a
small blogging website for Finnish users. As everybody knows, the more
time people spend on your website, the better. Of course with blogsites,
it's pretty easy (when pigs floss...) to achieve this as people will
spend time reading the blog entries. But there's always the question of
user loyalty to the service and any extra time spent by users is always
a bonus.

The well known method to make sure that users are loyal to Your
Service(tm), and won't go switching to another, is of course a sense of
community with other users on the site. But here's the million dollar
question: how do you strengthen that sense of community? Initially, it
must come from the users themselves, finding something in common with
each other, but then they need tools to create this online community?

So webmasters, shed some wisdom on me: how to strengthen this sense of
community (bonus points for presenting your arguments so that they would
fit in a blogging service)?

One of the most obvious answers is of course "give them a discussion
forum". Well, it's a good one, but has it's shortcomings as a normal
discussion board will very quickly be a) too limited in it's categories
b) have about 1000 categories which each has 1-5 discussions in them
rendering it useless.

The ideas I have so far (okay, the word ideas should be in quotes):

* User-created communities with a "community page" listing latest blog
posts from community-members, some discussion/forum page -thingy for the
community, a way for community members to interact.
* Web-based instant messaging. Yes, I'm seriously considering this. I
know that there are N+1 IM systems out there, but I think a web-based
IM-system integrated directly to the website could be a hit with the
users. Of course the MSN-generation would most likely not use it, but
especially with the not-so-technically oriented users might find it
handy. I think the IM would make the users want to spend a lot of time
on the site, if for nothing else, to see if other community members
would be online and chat with them.

So, there's something. Proceed with the comments.


Tuomas Rinta /

Re: Strengthening the sense of community on a website

Tuomas Rinta wrote

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For a discussion site, a sense of community is very important.  This I
believe is achieved automatically when you have a good forum with
regular members making regular contributions.

For a commercial site, the sense of community is not important, in my
opinion.  Generally people just want to make a purchase, then get on
with their busy lives.

Charles Sweeney

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