By Joshua Lucas

Issue #8

Wednesday, April 22, 1998


One of my favorite movies is "Field of Dreams." Maybe it's because of my love affair with baseball or maybe it is some secret desire to move to a cornfield. Who knows?

Many people take the attitude, "If you build it, they will come" when they start designing their web site. I feel that this attitude is dangerous because it leaves out two important parts of the design process: hard work and community building. If you have been following this series, then you know that the design of a web site is not an easy thing that can be accomplished in one step. But what about community? Why care about that?

When you build a community, you have created a site which cannot be missed. The Web is very much a word-of-mouth environment. While the 8th GVU WWW User Survey reports that the majority of web pages are found through search engines or through links from other web sites, it also shows that 58% of the time people go to sites suggested by friends.

By building a community within your site, you empower visitors to tell people they know about your on-line presence. Your ultimate goal is to build repeat traffic, but you never know who the person is going to tell. It could be a reporter who will want to do a piece about your site and your business. It could be a distributor who might be impressed enough to do business with you. This type of promotion can bring great rewards to your business because it is done by people without a specific agenda. Potential customers are more apt to trust the opinion of those who do not have a vested interest.

Building a community can make it easier to bring business to you; whether virtual or real. (By virtual, I mean business transacted over the Net as opposed to bringing people into your store.) How can building a community do this? Well, let's look at how Bill (our fictional client who's building a web site based on his small-town hardware store) could do it.

"Lucas, Joshua Lucas". . .writes for a living. By day he writes software, and by night he weaves words. Josh has coded in Java, C, C++, and Perl for some of the hippest and most recognizable companies in the US, including The Gap, Starbucks, Nike, and Nordstroms. Josh's rich experience, coupled with his diligent daily research, places him as close to the "cutting edge" as you can get without falling off. He and his wife recently moved from Los Angeles, CA to Boston, MA.

Assignment: Think about the following questions as a means to foster community growth within your web site. What information can you offer your visitors? How can you entice repeat traffic? Will you provide a forum for community dialogue? How will you encourage direct E-mail communication? And don't forget to keep sending me topics you'd like to learn more about!

Bill could add a discussion board on his site to get the community sharing ideas. Let's say it works, and he manages to get several people posting ideas back and forth. Let's also say that after watching the posts he notices quite a few messages about building a deck in the backyard. How can Bill capitialize on this?

He could put together a step-by-step example of how to build a deck, put the whole thing on-line, and advertise a "Web special" for people who need the supplies to build their own. Not only will this bring business to Bill's store but it also lays the groundwork for future examples and future specials. He's tapped directly into the needs of his new-found web market.

By giving them the step-by-step examples, Bill has given back to his community. It's important that Bill doesn't just break into the on-line conversation and just announce a special on deck building supplies. If he does this, Bill risks alienating his community because they'll feel that he's being evasive, and "preying" on the conversation. But if he provides free and useful information, then they are apt to think highly of him, and give him their business.

That's the beauty of business on the Web. By building trust and a sense of community, anyone can take part in the explosion of commerce on the Web. You don't have to sell things online to take advantage of it, just remember to build a community as a foundation and your site will be very strong. If you build it they will come.

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