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Can discussion based communities turn a profit?

By Daverix in Internet
Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 07:37:10 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

Slashdot and K5 have built web communities based on the idea of posting stories and moderated discussion based on those stories. Neither site however was developed with a purely commercial interest in mind. Newcomers in the "Web Community" genre such as Plastic.com are attempting to turn Slash into a business model. Will it work, why or why not? What are the common downfalls that plague attempts such as this, and how can they be avoided?

On the web today, there are "Communities" everywhere, for tech orientated news, anime, game news, women, you name it, there is a site. Most of these Communities were founded by people who had an interest in the subject, and attracted people with similar interests. Now, hoping to capitalize on the success of sites such as Slashdot, businesses are entering the scene. One of the new players, as described by an article on MSNBC.com is hoping use a very Slash/Scoop-like system to attract mainstream internet users.

The example site, Plastic.com (Which I have NO personal interest in), is sponsored by Automatic Media, which also teamed up with Suck.com. It posts news which it claims will attract the general user, but so far has been mainly tech oriented. Can a site like this compete with Slashdot and K5, since from its content it seems aimed at the same audience. Is it even possible for a site that tries to be very broad to gain a close-knit community. Also, what will most users think when they see Plastic being so blately a copy of Slashdot, they didn't even develop their own engine, the site has the "Based on Slash" button at the bottom.

The bottom line is, can commercial discussion communities be successful, and what pitfalls will they encounter on the way to success. Will issues of censoring comments because of business relations arise? Will some stores get posted because they support a business partner or investor? Most of all, would you join a community such as this?


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Will profit-based Communities be Successful?
o No, they will not be able to gain strong support 15%
o No, the genre is already too crowded 16%
o Yes, if they can provide something unique 26%
o Maybe, but they have a lot to overcome 32%
o I'm not sure, or None of the Above 8%

Votes: 90
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Slashdot
o Scoop
o an article on MSNBC.com
o Plastic.com
o Also by Daverix

Display: Sort:
Can discussion based communities turn a profit? | 31 comments (28 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Would I participate? It depends. (4.00 / 5) (#2)
by handle on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 04:41:00 PM EST

There are a lot of factors that I'd consider before joining such a community. How obnoxious and intrusive is their money-making going to be? Is the site going to be soaked in ads? Are javascript pop-ups going to be firing off left and right? Are they going to harvest info about me and then sell it to spammers? And so on. On the positive side of things, I've had an account at an ISP for over 7 years and the major reason I've stayed there is the lively and interesting local community they have.

I do think that any sort of restrictions on postings due to business or political interests will effectively kill a site, so a site that wants to succeed needs to be very explicit that speech on the site is free and not restricted despite the visible commercial interests.

Didn't see the first one (2.87 / 8) (#4)
by Phage on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 04:47:47 PM EST

But the gist of the comment looks as if it could be quite interesting. I don't believe that such a business model would survive by and of itself.

The very idea of making money from a community appears to be an oxymoron. Admittedly, the Slash/K5 audience would be a prime target for advertisers, but there have been no succesful business models in the new media (tm) based purely on advertising revenues.

And don't quote TV/Radio as an example, if you can't see fundamental differences between them and the Net-based equivalents...well, you haven't really looked.

+1 - I would love to see some real discussion of whether there could be a business model that relies on purely a wired community.

I don't find Heathens to be sexy, as a general rule.

Profit (4.22 / 9) (#5)
by jabber on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 04:50:22 PM EST

IMO, discussion sites can only make money in one of two ways:

By being a highly specialized "Value Added" subscription service, moderated and policed against abuse. Professional 'communities' catering to specific skills could actually make money off of their members subscriptions - but they would have to have a staff that would do research, organize references, etc.. Few people would pay money for the opportunity for idle chatter - especially since Slashdot is just a click away.

Or by pummelling their viewers with advertisements. Here they walk a fine line between building a community (which people would appreciate) and being a front for advertisers (which people would avoid). Even in this mode, a forum would not survive long if it didn't slant their content in some specific way. Too many interests in the same weblog, and it just gets too noisy. A site of weblogs for various interests might be interesting, but don't plenty of these already exist?

Once a site IS a community, and has built up a reputation for being one, it could try making money by selling promotional products and such - or by advertising it's for-pay membership. That's just asking for more users, and if you're not charging admission, you're going to get overrun by degenerates.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

K5 (3.75 / 8) (#6)
by NightHawk on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 04:56:25 PM EST

One of the things about K5 I noticed just recently (I've been frequenting the site for a couple months and created an account a few weeks ago) is that there are NO ads.

Yes Yes there are a few links to sponsors on the right side column, but even PBS mentions their sponsors.

This one little item has become one of the things I love most about K5, when I come here, I come to a site that was created to promote a comunity based on geekful discussion, not a site created so I could punch a monkey before anything else loaded.

This really makes K5 stand out in the crowed, and is one of the many things that puts it way ahead of 'the other site'.

Hope all that didn't sound too gushy.


Wouldn't Mind, If it Worked. (5.00 / 2) (#9)
by Seumas on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 05:17:08 PM EST

I was noticing the lack of advertisements yesterday, myself.

Also, my website doesn't have a single advertisement on it. Not a banner, not a link, not a kudos to some other company. Nothing. I don't know if my members appreciate it or not, but there's two reasons I would never use banner ads. First, they look ugly. Second, it's almost impossible to make a buck at it. And nearly impossible to make enough bucks to make it worth your while.

I've had some offers from small businesses to advertise on my site -- and even some recording artists for Universal Records and some small labels, too. I've turned everything down so far, because the small amount of money that would provide isn't enough to make plastering things over my website worth it. So I guess the only option a lot of us have is to support our sites completely out of our own pocket and let our users walk over us or make them pay and risk watching those things we worked so hard to put together wash down the gutter and into the sewers.
I just read K5 for the articles.
[ Parent ]

This will change, and soon (5.00 / 2) (#15)
by kmself on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 07:35:32 PM EST

I don't believe I'm violating any confidences here.

Fact is that running a site (K5 or any other) takes time and resources. K5 has run on donated hardware and colo (in exchange for sponsorship notice) to date. While this covers the operational end of things, it doesn't do much for Rusty, Inoshiro, et al, personally. Selling T-shirts and coffee mugs is not overly lucrative.

The larger question is where banner ads are headed and whether the current pennies per thousand revenue streams can be counted on into the future.

The fact that K5 will eventually have banners has been generally acknowledged for some time.

Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Important question (5.00 / 2) (#21)
by rusty on Tue Jan 16, 2001 at 12:38:13 PM EST

As kmself says below, yeah, we will have ads soon.

The important question is, while I understand why you like not having them (dammit, I like it too), what will you think when we do have them?

Basically, I've been doing this for over a year now, on my own time. It takes up an awful lot of my spare time and energy, and it's getting to the point where juggling a job, K5, and Scoop (not to mention some small attempt at a "Real Life", and an impending marriage) is too much (witness the utter lack of Scoop development lately).

So, I guess what I'm saying is, if we have ads, and I tell you that they really are an attempt to free up some personal resources to continue to support the community here, will you believe me? That is what I'll tell you, and it will in fact be true, but will you (you personally, and You, the contributors) see it that way?

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Question (5.00 / 2) (#23)
by Skippy on Tue Jan 16, 2001 at 05:00:32 PM EST

Are you still planning on following these guidelines? I wouldn't mind advertising like that and I'd even leave the advertising box on :-).

I also remember long ago a discussion of subscription instead of advertising (I tried to find a link but it may have been a discussion in a non-advertising related story). I myself wouldn't mind paying a bit for using K5. Heck, I wouldn't even mind paying a bit more for myself AND SOMEONE ELSE to use it. Sort of like a university president's club. I don't know if it would work on a large scale but I'd like to discuss it again. - Skippy

# I am now finished talking out my ass about things that I am not qualified to discuss. #
[ Parent ]

Unfortunately (5.00 / 1) (#27)
by rusty on Wed Jan 17, 2001 at 04:30:12 AM EST

Unfortunately, no, we're doing your standard run-of-the-mill banners. It came down to a choice between DIY and trying to sell ads ourselves (which we just really don't want to get into), and affiliating with someone else to do it. Practical necessity forced the latter.

OTOH, subscriptions for ad-free K5 is not totally out of the question, and may become an option at some point.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Yes to subscription. (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by Morn on Wed Jan 17, 2001 at 11:25:05 AM EST

I'd pay something like $1/month for K5 by crdit card or through some service like PayPal - see here.

[ Parent ]
I think your users will understand (4.00 / 2) (#25)
by onyxruby on Wed Jan 17, 2001 at 01:28:52 AM EST

Right now you have a lot of users who are /. refugees looking for a place to call home. They won't be turned off by a few banner ads. People are going to understand that their are practical limits to how far something like this can go on individual resources.

Just please don't become hypocritical like slashdot. They post stories about the evils of organizations that try and promote content and media control, while they run banner ads for emusic. It was this banner ad that convinced me that /. is just another hypocritical money grubbing red hat type of company that hides behind the open source label. You have a lot of users who have come here to escape this kind of hypocrisy.

The moon is covered with the results of astronomical odds.
[ Parent ]

The problem with that... (4.66 / 3) (#26)
by rusty on Wed Jan 17, 2001 at 04:27:32 AM EST

The problem with that is that we're not selling the ads. Basically, we're renting some space on our pages to another company, which sells ads and pays us for the space. So, K5 as a community can say one thing, while the ads may say another.

I don't necvessarily think slashdot is hypocritical for doing this. Slashdot and OSDN are not the same people, and porbably don't even communicate all that much. Basically, the choice is, do you become an activist organization, or do you keep ad sales and editorial stance totally separate?

Take an old-media example. If you want to pay the price for it, you can take out a full-page ad in the New York Times and say pretty much anything you like (within their obscenity standards, presumably). The paper may even print editorials opposing your view in the very same issue, but they will run your ad. Basically, you are paying them for page space. I think it's generally understood that the NYT doesn't necessarily endorse any of the products or opinions in it's advertisements. They are simply funding the newspaper.

There's, of course, a further wrinkle in our case. Our editors and writers don't even work for the site. So, is it even possible for K5 to be hypocritical? I think you can't do much better as far as separation of editorial and business than we do.

Expect a lot more discussion in this vein in a couple days. We may want to just save this till then. :-)

I'm somewhat reassured to hear someone say they think people will understand. Where's the line between "wanting to support the site" and "hypocritical money-grubbing" though?

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

I Don't Think So. (4.23 / 13) (#7)
by Seumas on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 05:06:08 PM EST

First, let me say that for a very good site like K5, I would probably consider paying a small yearly fee (very small, like $5 -- after all, who provides the content? -- the users do). That being said, I just don't see a way to make money consistantly at it. Subscriptions are largely not feasible, because anything that requires the users to pay out of their pocket will just result in some kid throwing together his own site and everyone who makes site A good will go make site B good.

I hate to say it, but the more I think about it, the more I'm sure that there isn't any way to make a long-term profit on the web, unless you're a company that is providing real-world services and using the web simply as a tool to conduct those real life activites (such as homegrocer.com and etrade.com).

Unless you're a million-dollar company who's all about the profit, you probably should consider providing your service for free or pay out of your own pocket. That's hard to say, especially when you've put so much time and energy (and continue to do so) into your project, but if you expect to make a reasonable amount of money from something, you better not put it on the internet -- because people only come to the internet for one thing -- free stuff.
I just read K5 for the articles.

need a niche to get rich? (3.80 / 5) (#8)
by HiRes on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 05:11:14 PM EST

My first hunch is that a site hoping to be all-encompassing is biting off way more than it can chew. For every story that the average user might be interested in, there should be lots more in which he/she isn't. While this is somewhat true of /. and K5, I think it would be to a much greater degree at plastic.com. Take a look at the front page and see if you don't agree...

A site with some coherent theme is more likely to attract a steady audience, I would guess.

These comments aside from the fact that the site takes forever to load... (yawn)
wait! before you rate, read.

Not can, but should (4.00 / 8) (#10)
by puzzlingevidence on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 05:19:43 PM EST

I think a better question to ask is "should discussion-based communities turn a profit?", not "can they?"

After all, I'm contributing my time and effort to the community, for no tangible payoff. If the site's owners are making money hand over fist (vis: Slashdot) then I'm essentially working for free.

I have a Real Job, but I'm also a freelance writer. Recently, my freelance work has started to pay off; I make enough cash writing to pay my rent (but only my rent).

I have been accused of "selling out", because much of what I write are similar to stories that, in years past, I might have made available for free on Usenet or via the Web.

Even in the dot-com downturn, it's possible to make some decent money providing online content.

As such, it's my feeling that once a site starts making money from my work, they had better start giving me a share.

A man may build a throne of bayonets, but he can not sit on it. --Inge

Business based on product or service (4.00 / 5) (#11)
by slakhead on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 05:23:27 PM EST

For a business to be successful they have to offer a service (or product). In the case of online communities, it would be suicide to charge for use of the service. Most people who are inclined to participate in discussion groups are not going to want to pay for the right to share their thoughts with others. After all, the discussion is what makes it valuable.

I don't see that there is anything these business backed groups can offer that people can't already get from k5, slashdot, or even IRC. It seems that the only way the businesses can make money is to take advantage of users by throwing tons of ads at them in hopes that they might like something they see.

When it comes to content, sites like Plastic.com look like an MTV producer has come through with a shiny-things brush and painted everything shallow. I can see where there might be a demand for different levels of discussion. Maybe an elitist/techie level, a low tech adult level, and a teenage discussion group. But the problem comes down to having REAL content for people with attention spans longer than the length of a TV commercial. The idea of discussion is to put some thought into the matter and try to developed and expand good ideas for the benefit of the community. Most people don't appreciate that concept and most businesses probably won't either.

All in all, it looks like people are just trying to cash in on another "fad" and they deserve the failure they will probably experience because they don't understand the philosophy of the internet has to do with the free exchange of ideas.

Survive? Maybe. Big money? No. (4.77 / 9) (#12)
by jrh on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 05:33:29 PM EST

First of all, Slashdot is commercial in fact if not in spirit. Plastic.com is different because it'll be run by media professionals rather than Taco (thus I don't expect hooters links on the front page of plastic.com), and it's created with a commercial goal apparently in mind.

But what exactly is this commercial goal? It's merely getting pageviews for plastic and partner sites, not exactly an exotic (or commercially successful) business model. From the MSNBC article:

Plastic will draw upon the million unique monthly users of Suck and Feed to start, and hopes to draw upon another 4 million to 5 million per month from its editorial partners.

Ok. So they're hoping to get a few million people to look at their site. I suppose this is the sort of numbers you'd need to get a worthwhile revenue stream from banner ads. They seem to be aiming to be a general interest /., so getting a few times /.'s visitors might not seem unreasonable.

But a few problems arise when a community gets to that huge a size.

If plastic.com becomes really big (a big if), there is absolutely nothing preventing similar slash or scoop based sites from springing up. It's hard and expensive to produce lots of high-quality content on a daily basis (witness the unprofitability of the most ambitious offerings, Salon and Slate). But it's really easy and cheap (by comparison) to link to such content in slashdot style. And especially when you don't have to code it yourself. I can see no advantage plastic's partners lend to it that would protect it from copycat sites.

Further, after they get a few thousand users, the copycats would probably be better, due to not having millions of participants.

Anyone who's been to slashdot knows what happens when a community gets that big. Even ignoring trolls, you end up in a sitution where people post so fast that your comments are buried unless you post within a half-hour of the story appearing. This promotes short, uninteresting comments and seriously hampers discussion. The most successful "communities," whether newsgroups or mailing lists or bulletin boards or weblogs or whatnot, seem to be moderate-sized for this reason (and others?).

In other words, I think community (I hate the term, incidentally) sites have a cap on the size they can be before self-destructing--no matter how broad their appeal.

Looking at Plastic.com, I also suspect that their focus will prove too broad and diffuse in the long run. Active communities, good or bad, are somewhat focused. k5 is one of the least narrow I've seen, and it's far from being for Joe Q. Websurfer.

(The site might even be harmed by its close association with Wired and the rest. If they post stories mostly from their partners, and I'm sure there will be a tendency to do that, it'll make the site less interesting.)

But, as they point out in the MSNBC article, it doesn't require a lot of staff to run plastic.com. (Just like Feed produces vastly less content than Salon, and can operate in the black, unlike Salon, which has no prospects of profitability.) I'll be interested to see if it ever reaches critical mass. If it does, it might even be worthwhile. But I can't see it (or any other discussion site) raking in the cash.

Good to try (4.00 / 3) (#14)
by skim123 on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 06:25:27 PM EST

Egad. That last post should have been topical, my bad.

I am quite curious as to whether or not this will work out and be commercially viable. Worth seeing, definitely, I'm glad to see that a large company is trying this out. Let's just hope they all don't go overboard and ALL try doing this, go public with negative profitability, etc., etc., and a year later have everyone stressing the importance of "solid business philosophy."

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

The coffee shop model (4.25 / 4) (#16)
by GiTm on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 07:41:42 PM EST

I always saw community/weblog sites in the same way as my favourite coffee shop. A nice atmosphere to be in with interesting people to talk to.

Obviously the coffee shop is there to make money, but by providing the appropriate atmosphere they attract more potential customers. If they are too pushy trying to get you to purchase as much as possible the appeal of the place drops.

The trick is to find out what a commercial weblog site can offer. Banner ads seem to be the most likely, and most people are used to it now. If done right, and the ads are non-intrusive, the site can keep both the community appeal and generate an income.

How much income can you generate from banner ads though? Given the percentage of people that actually click through to the ads the site would have to generate a large number of visitors to be viable and - as pointed out in a previous post - weblog sites tend to self destruct after they reach a certain critical mass in terms of population.

If you targeted a particular topic (say gaming) and generated your income for the site through sponsership agreements with companies in that area there may be a chance. This opens a whole new can of worms though. A gaming site sponsered primarily by Sony would obviously have a heavy lean towards PS and PS2 hardware/software. A Microsoft sponsered site would lean towards Windows games and the X-Box.

All in all I don't see a bright future for commercial weblogs.
--- I have nothing funny to say here.
Niche discussion sites the way to go... (4.00 / 2) (#18)
by skim123 on Tue Jan 16, 2001 at 02:27:19 AM EST

If you targeted a particular topic (say gaming) and generated your income for the site through sponsership agreements with companies in that area there may be a chance. This opens a whole new can of worms though. A gaming site sponsered primarily by Sony would obviously have a heavy lean towards PS and PS2 hardware/software. A Microsoft sponsered site would lean towards Windows games and the X-Box

If you had a niche site I don't think you'd necessarily want sponsors, like XBox/PS2, but rather you'd want some more direct, up-front targetted ads. Like in the forum for the latest games you could have reviews/links to discounted sales on the Web for those copies/links to gaming magazine subscriptions, etc., taking a small percentage off the top of sales. Again, yes, a lot of people, but I think the only way a discussion site will succeed is if it's a niche site.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

[ Parent ]
I certainly hope so (4.00 / 4) (#17)
by Wah on Mon Jan 15, 2001 at 07:58:36 PM EST

shameless plug, check out my slash site, no you probably won't like it. It isn't designed for (serious stereotyping to follow) people like you.

I do think that you need to stick to a core topic to gain the focus and audience you desire. I am very curious to see how a more mainstream, regular folks type slash site will evolve. Maybe they can pull a bunch of the trolls away from /., maybe they will introduce a whole new demographic to the joys of slashing. Either way, we are starting to see this new form of media take flight.

When I say "new form of media" what I really mean is UseNet. I mean, at it's core, that's all slashdot is. Sure there's a couple innovations, but the two are so remarkably similar that comparisons are easy. I think UseNet died because there was no central control or authority to police it. As more and more people discovered the wonders of making money with spam, there wasn't anyone there to stop them. But that doesn't remove the value that can be created when people share honest opinions.

I say "value becing created" because as with any media, much of the value that can be wrung from it depends on how many people are watching. It does take additional effort to convert eyeballs to dollars, but it's pretty much impossible without lots of eyeballs. And slash allows you to gather a great many, even if they are only looking back and forth at each other.

For our site we plan on using a combination of affiliate sites and advertising to generate revenue. Of course, this is well on down the road with a great number of pitfalls between here and there. Ultimately though, I would like nothing better to admin a site like that for my daily bread, and I will continue to work in that direction.

Anyway, I wrote a bit about /. back when it really got me excited, now I hope to extend that excitement in another direction on my own.
Fail to Obey?

What's wrong with using Slash? (4.00 / 3) (#19)
by Erf on Tue Jan 16, 2001 at 11:46:20 AM EST

Also, what will most users think when they see Plastic being so blately a copy of Slashdot, they didn't even develop their own engine, the site has the "Based on Slash" button at the bottom.
What's wrong with that? I mean, despite complaints many people have, Slash seems to work very well for a weblog. I've seen a couple of other sites based on Slash (forget where they are, at the moment), and it seems to have enough flexibility to give each site a somewhat-unique look -- and looking at Plastic, there's no way they could be mistaken for /.. Besides, I thought that was the whole point of releasing Slash -- so that other folks could use it for weblogs and stuff.

Whether it turns out to be a blatant copy of Slashdot depends, IMHO, on their content, more than the software they use. And after a glance at their site, it looks quite different, covering more mainstream topics. Some of it might even be interesting.

...doin' the things a particle can...

Yeah... (4.00 / 2) (#20)
by rusty on Tue Jan 16, 2001 at 12:26:03 PM EST

One of the assumptions people seem to make is that Scoop == Slash, which isn't really true. If I were in their shoes (er, well, if I were a person who hadn't written either system and had to choose between them) I'd have gone with Slash too, probably. Their big "draw" seems to be that they have famous editors picking content, so there's one of Scoop's big advantages gone. While our comment rating system is better, Scoop hasn't proven it's ability to handle millions of hits a day.

Basically, it's a safer choice for whoever had to make it. OTOH, everyone who's ever used both systems, and mentioned it to me, has liked Scoop a lot better. That may be skewed by the person reporting it though. :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Not necessarly anything wrong with it... (5.00 / 1) (#22)
by Daverix on Tue Jan 16, 2001 at 02:38:17 PM EST

I had seen some people talking about it before and I thought I'd put it in the article. For me at least it seems a little cheap to build a site totally modelled after Slashdot, use their code, and hope to make money off it. I don't know it just seems sleazyish, but that's just me.

[ Parent ]
revenue model for discussion sites (4.50 / 2) (#24)
by rongen on Tue Jan 16, 2001 at 06:53:57 PM EST

Hi, The site I run, with two other guys, is sort of like a discussion site (actually we do collaborative fiction with some discussion forums, etc.). We don't really have a revenue model or business plan for it. It's not like we wouldn't like to make money from Prosebush, but for now we have a small user-base of really creative people and can't generate income from click-throughs, etc. Since people who come to our site like to read and write we are a Chapters and Amazon affiliate so occasionally people click through us before shopping on those sites. Once and a while someone even clicks a banner ad! Woohoo! :)

Seriously though, discussion sites and collaborative fiction sites need people to work in order for the community to grow and be a fun place to spend time at. The community is SO important to the long term sucess of a site. Since it is a community people probably don't want to pay to be there (you lose the sense of friendship and instead feel membership which is not the same sort of thing). But the members of the community might buy merchadise, make donations, or otherwise contribute to the well-being of the server and admins of a site.

One scenario I could see where a diss-site could be paid for is if it was VERY special interest and screened it's membership very carefully. Something like a medical site or investment clubs, or something. This might work. All very high-brow, dontcha know?
read/write http://www.prosebush.com

AOL set the example (5.00 / 3) (#29)
by mpawlo on Fri Jan 19, 2001 at 12:38:47 PM EST

I was surprised to see that most posters relate to Slashdot. I would say Slashdot is a mediocre community, both in terms of content, context and profitablity.

The preferable example would be AOL. AOL was the BBS turning access provider turning content media giant. AOL sat the example.

I guess some of you now think: "but on AOL you have loads of newbies and crappy discussions and no core Kuro5hin quality stories." Yes, that is indeed the case. However, AOL has managed to keep a certain level of the community that appeal to a larger number of people.

This is not easy to achieve. AOL was once one of the smaller commercial players in the BBS era. Prodigy and CompuServe were the really big ones. I guess Apples Eworld and Delphi also is remembered by a few. However, AOL managed the dotcom translation well and managed to keep a balance between moderation and freedom that turned out to be very appealing. Also, AOL has refused to subject to elitism of the kind found regularly on Slashdot.

So is it possible to create a new AOL through a community?

I would say yes. However, the business model is somewhat unclear. AOL today is a media conglomerate consisting of just so many revenue streams. AOL in the beginning was community where you paid for access.

But would like to try to copy AOL? I would say no.

The future of communication lies in peer-to-peer technologies according to AT&T researcher Andrew Odlyzko. If Odlyzko is right you would like to create something different than AOL, maybe something more like ICQ or Napster, with added community functionality. You will be able to make a lot of money using AOL-like revenue splits.

I'm just a simple lawyer and I'm not sure Odlyzko is right, but he sure is convincing.

Thanks for reading all this and please accept my apologies for my English.

Best Regards,

Mikael Pawlo
Stockholm, Sweden

Additional information regarding ICQ (4.00 / 1) (#30)
by mpawlo on Fri Jan 19, 2001 at 01:28:27 PM EST

Speaking of ICQ I might add that AOL has acquired the Israelian company Mirabilis that developed ICQ. This doesn't affect my posting as such but it might be nice-to-know information in this context. Also I might add that the to ICQ technical superior service Pow-Wow was discontinued as of today. Another proof of the power of the market over quality, I'm afraid.

All the best,

[ Parent ]

a community of what? (4.50 / 2) (#31)
by vega on Sat Jan 20, 2001 at 11:10:21 PM EST

In an interview for Rolling Stone Cmdrtaco (R. Malda) admitted that the allure and the curse of slashdot was precisely its popularity: Many users now talking to each other instead of creating a real group discussion. and that is probably right. today many internet users know what is slashdot even if they do not have any idea of the particular subjects. but how many people remember slashdot in its early years when there were only young guys discussing about what they like most? not too many, I think.

FIRST you build the community THEN you start thinking about profits. sounds obvious right? well, to build a community you need people who share a passion about a particular subject/area. the wider or ambiguos the area is the higher the probability of getting silly comments, and the success of a community depends on the quality of comments posted.

If you check the sites that run the slash code you will realize that while you can easily find 90 comments per story at slashdot this sites only have a few if any at all. what does that tell you?

The Well is a good example of an excellent community tailored to people well educated, and they charge a subscrition fee. guess what: people are paying it because they know that they will find similar gray matter inside. think also in webmd.com a community for physicians. those communities are not free, but don't forget that they don't share the open source philosophy like slashdot's nerds.

So far the only thing clear is that relying on advertising revenue only is too risky, especially if your company intend to generate revenues quickly. Even high-quality content websites like salon.com are thinking in alternate ways to turn profits, like selling the engine that runs their site or sindicating their content.

the failure of sites like plastic.com (or kuro5hin.org or...) will only mean either that there are too many shy people in the world or that you cannot underestimate the general stupidity (or unwillingness to think/talk about topics other than the size of briney spears' boobies) of the general public.


phillip greenspun, the editor of photo.net an online learning community for photographers, has an interesting opinion about money and web sites.

--be careful vato

Can discussion based communities turn a profit? | 31 comments (28 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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