How to build an online community?

Every now and then, I try to build a group of people to talk about specific topics but it quickly dies because of inactivity. Although I really saw the value in having such a community, I just didn’t know how to build one. Even if one person keeps pumping in content, how do you actually get the community to interact with each other?

It is the same kind of problem being faced by, say which, I am guessing, wants to be the Hacker News of India. There are indeed topics that apply only to startups in India, from “Startup Morning”, to India’s first in-taxi magazine. Such interesting events and ideas are worthy of discussion.

There is value in such a community, but again, how to build it? StartupDunia has already put its thoughts on the subject but the question still remains.

Here are some of my thoughts.

Does it require credibility?

  • Hacker News has Paul Graham and YCombinator behind it.
  • ProBlogger Forums have ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse behind it.
  • And the most recent example of that has Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood behind it.

So the question is whether there each community should be backed by up by a credible person who has a reasonable authority on the subject?

Does it require an offline face-to-face presence?

  • Would the Headstart Network have taken off without all the Startup Saturdays?
  • Would the OCC mailing list have taken off without the Sunday meetups?
  • Would have taken off without the big showcase events that made famous?

(On the same note, I want to point out that there are other startup events that I’ve come across are not communities, they just happen to have good publicity. I just wanted to draw out that distinction.)

Would have taken off it was started by the existing Headstart/OCC/ communities instead of a standalone presence?

Does it require a news site?

  • How did StartupDunia,, and others take off?
  • Why does TechCrunch have 2 million readers?
  • Why doesn’t, say, the Steve Pavlina Forums have the same kind of numbers?

Is building a readership/community easier for news sites?

Does it require a blog?

How did,, and others take off?

Is community building intertwined with building a blog?

For example, consider SmashingMagazine and its related forums, ProBlogger and its forums, TechCrunch and its comments section, Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky are famous bloggers and so on.

Does it require specific social engineering?

I found the Joel Spolsky’s talk on StackOverflow very interesting from this perspective.

He talks about how they took into account that “Environment and UI influences behavior.”

StackOverflow environment behavior

He talked about the 9 things they used as core of the design of the site, and this specific design leads to the high return-rate on the community site. And I can attest to the fact that it does indeed work. It is a brilliant piece of social engineering. But then again, as he says, this particular model works only for professionals in such a field, and in this case, programmers.

StackOverflow nine aspects

Do watch the talk for more insights.

Are there some specific guidelines for it?

I am yet to read Yaro Starak’s “Membership Site Mastermind” or Chris Guillebeau’s “279 Days to Overnight Success” guides, but I see that they touch upon this topic in detail.

Maybe they’ve already solved this question?

Your Thoughts?

What are your thoughts? What do you think it takes to build a community?

  • How did become so popular among travelers in India?
  • How did become so popular among internet users in India?
  • How did get so many MBA students?

Is it sheer good content and number of years? Or being the first-to-market? Or is there more to it?

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Jamie Larson