design technology

Building an Online Community

drupalFor years, I have worked with blogging software like WordPress and shopping cart software like X-Cart. For much of that time I have been intimidated by the prospect of developing an online community. They seem to be an order of magnitude more complex than anything I’ve worked with before. That has changed.

I spent the earlier part of this past week at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. I learned many things there, and got some great visual introductions to 3D motion graphics. But the most paradigm-shifting (please forgive me the cliche) experience I had was a 3-hour seminar on Wednesday.

The seminar was entitled “Emerging Web 3.0 Technologies You Need To Know”, and it was presented by Todd Marks and Vince Buscemi of MindGrub. These guys were great. I took seven pages of notes on my laptop. I’ll talk about many of the things I learned there in future posts, but for now I am completely energized to build my own online community.

These days, people aren’t satisfied with simply reading a Web page. They want to comment on it, rate it, Tweet it, and blog about it. They want to generate their own content on your Web site. I recommend you embrace this. The free user-created content not only builds your site traffic and your page ranking in search engines, it helps build rapport with your visitors.

Todd and Vince introduced us to and, both of which provide ready-to-go online communities that are somewhat customizable.

I purchased two books at the show, Designing the Moment: Web Interface Design Concepts in Action by Robert Hoekman Jr., and Online Communities Handbook: Building your business and brand on the Web by Anna Buss and Nancy Strauss. These two books are fantastic. They really helped me see the potential in creating a social networking site.

When I got home, I looked into KickApps for a couple of hours. You run your community on their servers and simply point your domain name to your affiliate location there. This is known as Software as a Service (SaaS). They run ads on your community site, but you can pay them so that you can remove their ads and place your own and make a little moolah. I do want to make some moolah. I was uncomfortable with not running the software on my own host. I feared I couldn’t really get at the source code like I am used to. And I had no idea how much they might charge to strip their ads out and run my own.

Then I found this article:

This article was a god-send. It helped me see that although Drupal has a steep learning curve, it’s free, has great online support in the form of other Drupal users, and is extremely customizable. I had heard of Drupal before but thought it was essentially the same as WordPress. Wrong.

I’m willing to learn how to build my Drupal community from the basic installation up. Hey, I’ve found there’s a strong demand for Drupal designers at Luckily, my Web host WestHost let me automatically install the Drupal core (the installation itself probably was not too hard anyway), and I am working from there. The article above helped me figure out which add-on modules I needed to acquire and install as a next step. I did much of this, but I am still overwhelmed but the complexity of this monster. I haven’t even started customizing the look and feel yet.

I’m keeping the Web address and topic of my new venture under my hat for now, but I will be working on it feverishly for the next month or so. Then I will invite Beta members to help me test it and build some initial content.

Now I’m off to Borders to buy a copy of About Drupal from O’Reilly Media. Good Sunday reading.

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