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.


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.


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.

34 thoughts on “Sparking Interest in Online Communities”

  1. Kenric says:

    I think the site looks decent, even with the darker colors. It’s still easy on the eyes.

    I agree with you about adding a few pics. It feels like a simple wordpress template.

    I do like the articles I’ve read. I will bookmark it and be back.

    1. Chino Yray says:

      the theme has something to do with the way our eyes work.

      anyway, I’ll be bookmarking the site too.

    2. its because of the way how are eyes look at colors.

    3. Kumiko says:

      Argh…the darkness!! PINK is the best color for a forum! PINK I tells ya!!! 😀

      1. haha Kumiko. Your site is all pink. even the ads.

        Anyway… black is okay. Why not try black and pink? It is a good color combination.

    4. I think it would be better if they didn’t use gray text.. white would have been easier on the eyes!

    5. Dave says:

      I have to agree with Michael, I’m not a fan of dark backgrounds with light text. However, a blog on building an online community is a great idea!

  2. Bookmarked and excited to read more of his stuff…

    I actually like his minimalist approach; he used a dark background, but at least it isn’t entirely black. It could use a little something something here and there, but for now I think it works. Would be interesting to see how his layout progresses/changes through time…

    1. I agree I found the site easy to navigate and prefer the minimalist look 😎

    2. TheBeginning says:

      Yup I prefer the minimilist look it’s much easier to navigate. I also like the darker theme 😈

  3. Dave says:

    I have CommunitySpark on my RSS feed…even before this review. Great site with good content, and Martin is an active part of what seems like a lot of communities.

    Highly recommended!

  4. Chino Yray says:

    having a community with a hundred plus members, visiting the site everyday… now that is stable traffic. AND they get more members joining in everyday.. so meaning, more traffic again. Nice strategy.

  5. well the very best thing people at will surely first love about community spark is the link love. haha

    1. Entrepreneur says:

      Yes I am sure that is the case, but I wonder how strict he is with the comments. I’m sure some he’d have to be a little more strict that usual 🙂

      1. Martin Reed says:

        Since I made the change, I haven’t seen anyone abusing it – I have installed Akismet to capture spam, but apart from that I think users know that any deliberate spamming they do will be removed.

        It’s a two way street – I trust my readers to post relevant comments, and they trust me to offer them a full return link.

  6. So far so good; I’m liking this place, thanks for the buzz, Michael. I’d like to see Martin Reed’s take on all this feedback (I’m pretty sure there’ll be more to come, too).

    1. Entrepreneur says:

      This is a prime example of an advertiser choosing the proper blog for a Review Me, some of the products have been marginally geared towards JohnChow’s readers, but this one was targeted perfectly.

  7. Ali says:

    taking out the nofollow from his comments was probably a smart move.

    though i use the top commenters plugin, and want to keep people engaged all the time to make that top 10 list on my blog, which is a PR 5 😉

  8. Martin Reed says:

    Thank you for a well-rounded and generally positive and encouraging review, Michael.

    As Michael said, this is my first ever blog – when I set it up in March I had no idea just how much commitment and dedication was needed to build and maintain a successful blog!

    I take on board the comments about the lack of graphical elements and agree with this statement. From now on I will try to insert an image into each post where possible (and relevant), although I am not too keen on adding additional graphics around the rest of the site (for example, headers) as I want to keep the minimalist approach.

    Michael is right that Community Spark is not monetised in any way. I didn’t set it up with the intention of making money from it. Sure, it may promote my main site at times but I think the additional exposure it gets from this (at the moment in particular) is minimal.

    Thank you again to Michael for the review, and for all the encouraging comments I have read here so far.

    1. You’re right to stay away from a graphical header, your design is better without it. However, you do need images or pullout quotes in your posts to break them up.

      Nice one!

    2. Kudos to the “promotional” blog, Martin — I’m really excited to read more of your posts in the days to follow.

    1. This was a review??

      1. yup. a ReviewMe review.

  9. I actually like the background also…nice simple and clean layout…

  10. Dave says:

    I like others, do like the clean design. I’m normally not a huge fan of the black background with light text, but it works well in this scenario. As long as it’s done right 😎

  11. Martin Reed says:

    I have taken some of the criticism on board with the latest article I wrote – an interview with a successful online community creator. In the interview I added a few relevant images to spice up the appearance a little.

    I have also added an image alongside the title graphic of the blog, to make it a little less ‘text-heavy’.

    I hope these changes address some of the concerns mentioned in the review.

    1. dont listen to them Martin, your theme is great. haha

      Anyway, a few suggestions won’t hurt.

    2. They’re pretty effective, actually — awesome work! It’s still minimalistic, but you managed to use a few add-ons…it’s great!

  12. :mrgreen: Cool website, definitely like the article about Google’s AdSense. Wrote a comment about the article on the site. So glad to see that that kind of, personal blog format, doesn’t have any ads whatsoever. Nice post.

    -Sam from

  13. J.B.Slife says:

    Alright…I’m not even going to read this post because I’m so interested in it. Off to the site I go…great name “Community Spark”.

    I just made a post on my site about trying to get my new forum going.

  14. i’m not digging the darkness either O_O

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