Next Five Minutes Conference Link Online Community Builder's Tool-Kit
This Tool-Kit for building Online Communities was first presented at the Next Five Minutes Tactical Media Conference in Amsterdam, 12-14 March '99. It was developed by Robin Hamman who has been living in, studying, and building online communities since 1985. Robin is currently working as 'Communities Evangelist' at TalkCast Corporation where he is using Internet, iTV, and Wireless technologies to build communities. He was formerly Communities Producer at BBC Online where he developed the chat system currently in use there, wrote the message board and chat training manuals, and ran nearly 100 high profile chats with celebrities and politicians. Robin continues to work on his PhD at the Hypermedia Research Centre, University of Westminster, while working full time.

This tool-kit includes:

  • research papers discussing the theory behind Online Community
  • valuable information on free services which allow you to add mailing lists, message boards, and chat rooms to your website
  • reviews of the top books for Online Community designers, hosts, and citizens
  • annotated links to other Online Community resources

It is assumed that most people using this toolkit do not have access to their own web server or cgi-bin, thus special attention has been paid to free services for building spaces which allow one-to-one and many-to-many interaction online.

This tool-kit doesn't currently include:

  • reviews of commercially available software that requires community builder's to own their own server, although you'll find links to such listings

Research Papers:

A number of social scientists and theorists have discussed the formation and growth of Online Communities, which they often call Virtual Communities. Online Communities are groups of people who share common ties with each other and interact on a regular basis within an online forum. Online Communities frequently employ the use of email lists, message boards, chat rooms, and other interactive features found online. The following articles and books are an excellent starting point for anyone interested in learning more about the theories and aspects of Online Communities:

Fernback, Jan and Thompson, Brad. (1995) Computer-Mediated Communication and the American Collectivity: The Dimensions of Community Within Cyberspace. Presentation at the annual convention of the International Communication Association, Albuquerque, New Mexico. See

Gulia, Milena and Barry Wellman. (1998) Net Surfers Don't Ride Alone: Virtual Communities As Communities. Communities in Cyberspace Ed. Peter Kollock and Marc Smith. New York: Routledge.

Hamman, Robin. (1999) "
Computer Networks Linking Network Communities: A Study of the Effects of Computer Network Use Upon Pre-existing Communities." Forthcoming in Virtuelle Gruppen - Charakteristika und Problemdimensionen, Edited by Udo Thiedeke. Westdeutscher Verlag GmbH, Opladen/Wiesbaden: Germany.

Hesselbein, Frances; Goldsmith, Marshall; Beckhard, Richard' Schubert Richard F. (1998) The Drucker Foundation: The Community of the Future. Jossey - Bass: San Francisco.

LaLiberte and Wooley, David. (1997) Presentation Features of Text-Based Conferencing Systems on the WWW. CMC Magazine.

Rheingold, Howard. (1994) The Virtual Community: Surfing the Internet. London: Minerva Publishing. Buy this book: UK Customers / USA Rest of World

Rheingold, Howard. (1996) A Slice of My Life in My Virtual Community. High Noon on the Electronic Frontier: Conceptual Issues in Cyberspace. Ed. Peter Ludlow. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. p.413 - 436. Online at:

Watson, Nessim. (1997) Why We Argue About Virtual Community: A Case Study of the Phish.Net Fan Community. Virtual Culture: Identity and Communication in Cybersociety. Ed. Steven G. Jones. London: Sage. 102-133.

Feed Magazine: Public Life in the Electropolis - Part One in Feed's dialogue on Virtual Communities (with Howard Rheingold, Mark Slouka, Stacy Horn, and William Mitchell).


Free Services for Building Online Community

There are a number of free services which allow users to build email lists, message boards, chat rooms, and other interactive features into websites.

Email Lists can be used for one-to-many and many-to-many communication. Sometimes, email lists can even help to foster a sense of community amongst participants. Most email lists are moderated, meaning that the list owner checks messages to see that they are relavent before sending them on to the list recipients. Unmoderated lists allow anyone to send anything to everyone on the list, regardless of relavence. While some organisations maintain email lists for the sole purpose of sending their information, such as website updates and special product offers, to recipients, there are many discussion lists on the Internet that allow people to discuss their favourite topics with other likeminded individuals. My favourite free email list services are: Link Exchange Listbot ( and eGroups ( I use egroups for the 1000 member CyberSociology list which I moderate. My only complaint is that the sign-up link takes people to an eGroups registration page rather than just to one specifically for my list. There are probably other free mailing list services out there, but these two are easy to use and you don't need to have your own server, any technical knowledge, or even a website to start a list. I've never tested Topica (, SmartGroups ( or WotNot ( but they all have similar offerings. For a list of the thousands of email lists already out there, and to add your own to their search index, try Liszt Search (

Message Boards are used for asynchronys communication among members of Online Communities. They are usually organised by discussion thread: a user starts a new topic, and other users reply to their post by making their own post which then appears below the initial post. Message boards are often created using CGI scripts, a short program that is uploaded to the webspace of the site where the message boards are to be located. If you want to run cgi scripts, you must have access to you web server. There are, however, a number of free message board services which allow users to create their own message boards without having to gain access to a web server. One easy to use service of this type is Inside The Web ( where it takes about 5 minutes to set up a message board. I've also set up an example message board ( that users are welcome to experiment with. The server at EzBoard ( has always been overloaded when I've tried using their test sites, so I can't really comment on the interface and would stay clear if it all possible. Server Corporation ( has also started offering a banner ad supported message board service. A listing of over 25,000 interactive online message board forums, and a free monthly newsletter for online community builders, can be found at the website of Internet consulting firm, Forum One ( Use Forum One to promote your message boards.

Chat Rooms are used for real time communication among members of Online Communities. They appear to be increasing in both number and popularity . While some chat rooms are hosted or moderated by their owners, most are not. You may wish to password protect your chat room if you are worried about what people might do if they have too much freedom (they'll probably swear at each other and have cybersex!). Most free chat rooms for use on websites are based on Java Applets. You simply cut and paste a small amount of html into your web page's source code, and the service does the rest for you. This makes it possible for people with very little programming experience to add a fully functional chat space to their site. The downside of using Java Applets is that many will crash computers that are not based on Windows (ie. Macintosh, Unix, Amiga, Acorn). My favourite, because of it's stability on all platforms and it's speed, is available from Multi-Chat ( You can also email a chat applet to a friend, so that when they open your email they are actually opening a window to your chat! You can try the Multi-Chat client, along with chat rooms from ICE and XOOM, at . Announce your chat at Yahoo!'s net events page (
Chat Links - Places to Promote and Chats to Visit
  • Yahoo! Net Events -
    One stop directory for live, real-time content on the Internet.
  • Yahoo! Chat Event Center -
    Upcoming chat events at Yahoo!
  • NetGuide -
    A focused guide to doing more on the Internet including chats & events by topic.
  • Talk City Events Calendar -
    Real-time chat forums are happening all day and night, promoting cyberspace communities of interest.
  • Chat @ The Globe -
    Chat about life, weird life, romance, entertainment and more. Geared towards young adults.
  • BBC Live Chat -
    Chats with politicians, celebrities, television personalities, experts, etc etc - the eclectic mix you would expect from the World's leading public service broadcaster
  • Yack! -- Today's Internet Events and Chats -
    Webcasts and chats Netwide are featured on Yack! Select Premium Channels for Yack! top picks
  • Delphi Forums -
    Special events and open forum chats at Delphi Web-based Forums.
  • Chat Central -
    Each week hosts a variety of regularly scheduled chats and special events on this network of over 500 GuideSites.
  • The Globe Events Newsletter -
    Want to know what exciting celebrities and special guests are coming to to chat? Subscribe to the Chat Events Newsletter.
  • ZDNet Chat Events -
    From weekly trivia to Microsoft's Computing Central, find out what's going on in the ZDNet community.
  • ParentsPlace -
    Enormous community and resource site including daily chats on topics from pregnancy to parenting.
  • Click2Asia -
    Asian online community providing information, interaction, entertainment and commerce in the global Asian market.
  • Radio Times: Web events -
    From live chat to webcasts -- listings and reviews of the best entertainment web events, plus Radio Times own chats with stars of BBC television.
  • [email protected] - Web Events Guide -
    Chat with your favorite celebrity, watch a webcast of your favorite band live in concert, or get valuable health information from doctors.
  • ThirdAge Chat Schedule -
    Meet celebrities, and talk about money, grandkids, health, traveling, or whatever's on your mind.
  • Backstage Live -
    ET Online - the place to be for live chats with your favorite stars, celebs and more.
  • ZineZone: Events -
    ZineZone features exciting events including chats, Webcasts, and more.
  • Chat Events - Chatting Online Net Links -
    A listing of major chat events all across the web, from (The Mining Co)
  • Excite Chat Events -
    Special guest events and regularly scheduled chat at Excite.
  • InChat Magazine -
    This interactive magazine for virtual people includes reviews and listings of upcoming events all over cyberspace.
  • -
    A place for individuals who are seeking information on alternative or complementary medical treatments.
  • Web Times -
    Highlights the top Internet Chats each day up to a week in advance.
  • UBL: Online Events -
    Presented by OnNow the Ultimate Band List events list
  • NFL.COM: Sideline - Chat Sked -
    Chat with NFL personalities all season long! Chats continue into the
  • Welcome to Reality-Online -
    Where real people experience conversation, online workshops, celebrity events and .... a lot of fun!
  • Snap: Online Events -,78,home-0,00.html
    Snap! offers up a simple search engine to find online events by interest
  • -
    Calender guide of events happening right now.
  • -,19333&s=
    Chat with the cream of the crop in the gardening world.
  • ArthritisNet Chat Schedule -
    A place to hang out, to support and be supported by others who know how you feel.
  • Live -
    Chat with Las Vegas Celebrities
  • The Palace Events Calendar -
    Schedule your own Palace events or find out what's happening in a Palace near you! Now, no matter where you live, you can instantly find out what's happening right now on The Palace!
  • Lycos Live -
    Full schedule of special events at the Lycos network.
  • ChatPlanet Happenings -
    Browse events by day or week at ChatPlanet - the EarthWeb Chat Network's java based web chat.
  • World Without Borders -
    Web-browser based chat community,bringing sponsor-specific content worldwide. WWB provides quality programming to a carefully targeted audience.
  • | Chat Studio -
    Special shows and live chats at
  • CNN Interactive Chat -
    Check below the calendar for a wide array of transcripts from CNN world and news chats.
  • ABC News Chat Transcripts -
    Current events and topics ranging from: Kosovo, World, U.S., Health & Living, Technology, and ABC Personalities.
  • Yahoo Chat Event Center -
    An enormous resource of transcripts from Yahoo! celebrity chat events
  • Meta Chats - University -
    The Internet chat resource guide serves up IRC logs from the Oklahoma City Bombing, Gulf War, and more.
  • HotWired: Club Wired -
    Contains various transcripts.
  • Barnes and -
    Transcripts from featured chats with your favorite authors from
  • Inc. Online Chat Transcripts -
    For two years, Inc. Online hosted weekly chats at America Online with guests ranging from superstars, like Lillian Vernon and's Jeff Bezos, to everyday people running smaller, growing companies.

Lots of add-ons in one place can be found at a number of sites. LookSmart ( offers a lot of really useful stuff including free chat rooms, message boards, online polling, guestbooks, counters, and more. Another company promising, but not yet offering, free message boards and other services can be found at: If you don't care much about controlling your interface, there's a number of places like Delphi (, Deja Communities (, Lycos Clubs ( and Yahoo Clubs ( who will allow you to create message boards, chat rooms, etc and will host them on their servers. A more professional service is offered by CommunityWare (free for non-commercial sites) ( and Talk City (, the later of which can also provide professional hosting/moderation of your forums at a price

Further information: Full Service Online Community Building Services are growing in popularity because they are easy to use and typically don't require access to a webserver. Often times, these services allow site owners to create all the features above (email lists, message boards, chat rooms) in one place. They also sometimes offer moderators to help grow and nurture your Online Community. For a comprehensive listing of just about every web conferencing package that is available, along with their features and prices, see David R. Woolley's "Conferencing Software for the World Wide Web" at Another good resource is David Strom's "Web Based Discussion Forum Software" page located at

Other Articles: An excellent selection of articles on building interactive online forums can be found in the section immediately above ("further information"). After browsing through these, you may find that you have more questions, so I've included the following supplementary readings:

Baldazo, Rex "Adding Discussion Forums to Your Site" C|Net Builder.Com, Oct. 1997.

Cortese, Amy. (1997)"Internet Communities: Forget Surfers. A New Class of Netizen is Settling Right In." Business Week, 5 May, 1997. Pgs. 38 - 47.

Douglas, Paul (1997) "Online Communities: An Overview" Net User, March, 1997. Pgs. 104 - 110.

Kim, Amy Jo. (1998) "Nine Timeless Principles for Building Community: Erecting Social Scaffolding". Web Techniques, January, 1998. Pgs. 37 - 41.

Rheingold, Howard. The Art of Hosting Good Conversations Online.


Books on Building Online Community:

As interest in online communities has grown in recent years, a number of books have been written which developers will find useful.

This is the best book about building online communities and comes with the recommendation of community managers and hosts around the World. Amy Jo is a recognized expert in online community design. She has worked as a consultant for AOL, eBay, Adobe, iVillage, Yahoo, and others. She teaches a course on community design at Stanford and regularly gives presentations at conferences. You'll learn how to select the right tools for your community, how to attract an audience, how to evolve with the needs of your community, how to identify and fill important community rolls (manager, host, volunteer, etc), and to foster growth and positive participation. If you buy one book about online community building, this should be the one. 300+ pages - Published in April 2000.

Price and Availability: UK Customers

Cliff is currently the director of community development for Salon Magazine after spending six years as director of The Well. This book teaches readers how to define your online community, establish relationsips with key people within your target audience, select technology, choose and train forum moderators (hosts), plan the growth of your community, and create a revenue model so that your community is sustainable.

Price and Availability: UK Customers / USA & Rest of World
Net Gain: Expanding Markets Through Virtual Communities, by John Hagel III and Arthur G. Armstrong (1998)

Oriented towards the business world, this book discusses the successes and failures of companies who have sought to build community online. Pay special attention to the business models presented here if you are about to go into business online.

Price and Availability: UK Customers / USA & Rest of World
The 21st-Century Intranet (with CD-Rom), by Jennifer Stone Gonzalez, PhD. (1998)

Although it is geared more towards building closed online communities for use on corporate Intranets, this book remains a very valuable addition to your tool-kit. Includes a number of case studies looking at the social, organisational, and technological difficulties in building a useful online community.

Price and Availability: UK Customers / USA & Rest of World
Sorry, no cover photo available. How to Program a Virtual Community (with CD-Rom), by Michael Powers (1997)

This book is for those who want to get their programming hands dirty. It includes step by step instructions on how to build online environments, such as Palace Rooms, where communities can grow and thrive. There are also chapters on keeping your online community interesting by developing creative and unusual activities for participants.

Price and Availability: UK Customers / USA & Rest of World

This webpage is ©1999 - 2000 by Robin Hamman (

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