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(October 2000)

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Subject: Review: Building Online Communities
From: Chuq Von Rospach <chuqui @ plaidworks . com>
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2000 13:34:50 -0700
To: list-managers @ greatcircle . com

When Margaret posted the note about her book, it piqued my interest, 
so I went and got a copy. I've gone through it now, and thought I'd 
post my thoughts on the book for others who might be thinking about 

First, a disclaimer -- I don't know Margeret at all, and I know John 
mostly from this list and because we've both run internet things 
forever -- and while John and I don't always agree on stuff, I always 
respect his opinion, even if we disagree. It was because he was a 
co-author that I decided to check it out.

This book is going to be of different levels of interest to different 
people. here's my quick summary:

"Boss just told me we need a community, whatever that is": B+
"I know how to run (name a service), looking to expand to other tools": B
"I've got a handle on doing this, I want to run my stuff better": C
"What do they know I don't know already?" : C-

The first 2/3 of the book, roughly, is technical stuff. That's split 
up between mail lists (about 40%), IRC, Web-based services and 
USENet, the latter three about equally represented. There's a fairly 
strong bias towards e-mail as the core community technology, and 
against web (not surprising given John's background). IRC, ICQ, and 
other things are seen as supplementary tools.

The technical stuff is split roughly in half, between "how to use 
this stuff" and "how to set up this stuff". The first part, on "how 
to use this stuff" for each service, if you split out of this book 
into a book of its own, is the one I'd love to beat my users over the 
head with when they do stupid things -- it's a great end-user 
overview of all of these tools, but, IMHO, more filler material in a 
"how to build these things" book.

The book is a good "single source" for lots of interesting info and 
reference copies of things like welcome messages. The suggested 
rules, content, etc is in general pretty well thought out, and little 
of it will honk off the users of this list.

The last third of the book is where you get away from "how to create 
a list", "how to configure a list", "how to use a list" type details 
to putting it together and running it, growing it, marketing it, 
financing it -- the non-technical side of things. Again, there's lots 
of good source material here (rules, FAQs, vendors, etc), all in a 
central location, well-organized and well-thought-out. I don't think 
there are any major revelations here, but it's a nice, fairly 
conservative package of common sense.

Overall: I wish there'd been less material aimed at end-users instead 
of admins, although for the person trying to figure all this out from 
scratch, that's going to be more useful. You could build things by 
using nothing but the recommendations in the book (use the welcome 
messages, rules, etc without change) and not hurt yourself or look 
like an idiot. The non-technical side of things was more what I was 
looking for, and I found that content interesting but not 
toe-tingling. Some good references, a number of things I plan on 
looking into a bit more, but "not brain surgery".

My rating for the book: somewhere between a C and a C-. The less 
you're comfortable with this stuff (and there are a lot of us who are 
skilled at one technology, like lists, trying to figure out the other 
ones -- in my case, I'm getting my hands around IRC right now), the 
more useful this book is. And if you already know everything, you 
don't need it at all, but who's in that category?

Not me, that's for sure. For me, this is a good 
investigation-of-technology book, or a reference to hand to 
interested novices. I'll also likely use it as a convenient reference 
for their drafts of rules and etc. It's a book I'll keep on my 
shelves, but not on my desk.

Good book, not great book. Not worth buying for any one technology, 
but if you're building a site melding a number of tools together, or 
trying to get a handle on running communities instead of lists, it 
can be useful.

Chuq Von Rospach - Plaidworks Consulting (
Apple Mail List Gnome (

You seem a decent fellow. I hate to die.

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