Sparking Interest in Online Communities

When I have some spare time on my hands, I oftentimes find myself surfing through random forums on the internet, partaking in discussions about finding the best deals, playing the coolest videos games, and modifying some hot cars. It’s the members that set great forums apart from mediocre ones, so when you set out to create an online community of your own, it’s of utmost importance to not only entice new members, but also maintain your early adopters.

Martin Reed established Just Chat in 2000, growing it into “one of the UK’s most popular online communities.” Reed is now ready to share his knowledge of growing online communities through his first blog ever, Community Spark. And what better way to draw attention to a new blog than by ordering up a ReviewMe from one of the most popular blog on the web.

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The Basics of Online Community Building

Ever since Community Spark launched back in March 2007, there has been a very consistent posting schedule. Martin Reed has religiously put up one post each and every day (with the exception of March 3, the first day of the blog, where he put up two posts). This is excellent for building readership, because they know that you will be providing new insights and information on a daily basis.

You’ll notice that there aren’t that many categories listed in the sidebar. Like John, I am also not a fan of blogs that go over the top with too many categories, so Community Spark wins points for that. There are six categories in all, spanning from community building to site reviews.

The posts are fluid and easy-to-read. They provide some pretty useful tips, hints, and information on growing your online communities (which include “blogs, forums, chat or social networking sites”). Here are a few blog entries that caught my eye:

Within these posts, he hits on several critical points. He tells us that web users are lazy. He explains why you need an active forum in order to grow a forum (sort of a catch-22). There’s also information about advertising. This makes for a well-rounded blog covering all aspects of growing online communities.

How Does Community Spark Make Money Online?

From what I can tell, it doesn’t. I didn’t stumble across any affiliate links, nor are there any Google ads, Yahoo! ads, Kontera ContentLink, or anything like that. I didn’t even find any sponsored posts, so it seems like Community Spark doesn’t make any money on its own. Instead, it serves somewhat as a promotional tool for Martin’s main project, Just Chat. On Just Chat, you do find advertising.

Is Community Spark created out of the goodness of Reed’s heart or is he waiting until traffic picks up before he monetizes the blog? For now, I can’t say for certain.

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On a side note, Martin Reed spreads a lot of link love. When you leave a comment on the blog, the “nofollow” attribute is removed, meaning that you can have a live link back to your site. He’s also done a good job at promoting the RSS feed.

The Dark Side of Growing Online Communities

The first thing that struck me about Community Spark was that it had a very dark background. I realize that this is largely a matter of personal preference, but I’m a little turned off by blogs that use light-colored font against a dark-colored backdrop. It just seems like something someone would do several years ago, back in the days of frames and other Web 1.0 stuff.

Again, this is a matter of personal preference, but there is also a severe lack of graphics on Community Spark. There’s no stylized banner, there are minimal pictures embedded in the posts, and there’s no photo of the author — Martin Reed — on the About page. Some may say that this adds to a very clean appearance, but I say it comes off either a little amateur-ish or a little boring.

I think that Community Spark has a lot of useful information, but it could use a bit of a cosmetic makeover. I’d like to see a top banner of some kind and a few more pictures embedded in the posts. We’re in an age of multimedia. And like Martin said himself, web users are lazy. We like visuals.