Online Communities: Open for Discussion
Though many magazine publishers
now have more than a decade of Web experimentation under their belts, few profess to having found the perfect Web model—and, by and large, view their Web sites as perpetual works in progress.
Different models appear to work for different publishers, often determined by genre and reader demographics. But one common theme seems to be top of mind as publishers set out to enhance their sites: how to build online communities.
Hundreds of tools are available—from ASP to install-based solutions, from freeware to licensed tools. Forums and chat, blogs and comments, and polls and surveys have enabled publishers to gather vital audience information, and facilitate dialog between their magazines’ contributors and readers.
The Science of Online Communities
Christie Nicholson is the community editor for Scientific American Online (www.SciAm.com). In November 2007, the publisher redesigned its site, incorporating more rich media, including features like podcasts and photo sharing.
In her role, Nicholson is charged with building the publisher’s online community. “Scientific American, the print publication, has a very sophisticated, highly educated audience, and I was hoping that would translate into the community, as well as tap into our other demographics—younger people on the Web,” Nicholson notes.
One strategy Nicholson has deployed is to create the opportunity for “discussion.” “Our January issue cover story is an article about a proposed plan to have the United States entirely based on solar energy by 2050,” Nicholson explains. “It’s a plan that’s open for discussion. We have nearly 400 posts on the forum about it, and the authors [of the article] have chimed in.”
“You have to have either author or editorial participation. That’s what really generates further discussion,” Nicholson notes.
SciAm.com is also experimenting with tapping the “wisdom of crowds.” “We have an article online right now … called ‘Science 2.0,’” Nicholson explains. “Since we’re working in this world of collaboration and sharing, we’ve incorporated something called ‘Edit This,’ where we’re asking members of our community to give us comments. It’s an experiment in citizen journalism. We’re asking them to pick the article apart … to share their knowledge. … And then we’re going to rewrite the article and publish it in print.”