From 'Craig's List' to virtual community
By CNN Interactive Writer Elizabeth Knefel
March 25, 1998
Web posted at: 11:59 AM EST (1159 GMT)
taking your electric address book and turning it into a large online
community. That's what happened to Craig Newmark.
"I was just e-mailing a few friends about events that were useful
or fun and now my friends of 20 or more have become a mailing list of
7,500 people and a virtual community of at least 10,000 people," says
That was just the beginning of "Craig's List." It now reaches 37,000
people every day and it is still growing. It's a real neighborhood where
people help each other get jobs, find apartments and share information.
Craig's List provides information about rentals, events, jobs and things
to buy. In the past, he did all the work. Today he has help from corporate
sponsors and volunteers that he calls "listizens." He recently reorganized
as a foundation. The Web site, now called List
Foundation , has been used by members for free but last month, it
started charging $25 for job postings.
has big plans for the future. He has earmarked Seattle, Chicago, Boston
and especially Los Angeles and New York City for future expansion. He
doesn't just want to increase the number of citizens in his virtual
community, he wants to expand in other ways.
"We want to offer job training and mentoring and build the site with
more robust, reliable and flexible technology," says Newmark.
Computers in cyberspace connect this community, but members also meet
face-to-face at block parties in real space. The block parties serve
two purposes. They provide funding for growing communities and give
the opportunity for members to meet in person. Some online communities
don't offer that opportunity and that physical limitation can eventually
affect their growth.
"Successful online communities have social activities or get-togethers,
Kollock, professor of sociology. "It's a powerful thing getting
people together. There's more accountability when there's a face there."
Kollock teaches about online communities at UCLA. His studies have
shown accountability is a critical element for building successful online
communities. He says it is important for members to find ways to identify
each other and feel confident that their interactions will be appropriate.
Well, one of the oldest and most successful of all virtual communities,
was established in 1985. Its members meet monthly and socialize at annual
picnics. This physical contact creates accountability where a user is
more responsible for behavior. As members actively participate in building
the community, such contact prevents anti-social or impolite behavior
online like "flaming."
One of the reasons an online community evolves into a larger group
is because they exchange e-mail. Email, perhaps the most prized feature
of the Internet, creates many contacts with others, helping them to
grow together and develop personal, electronic relationships. These
groups are growing tremendously and as more and more people get on the
Internet, they will continue to grow. These online communities reflect
the spectrum of the population.
Many of the most successful online communities are very specialized.
One of the best examples is how people meet online to deal with particular
diseases and medical conditions. Online support groups are built around
coping with a parent's Alzheimer's disease, HIV, cancer, parenting,
etc. It's a crucial part of our emerging wired society.
Kollock thinks there will be much more growth in the future. "People
are getting important information, sound support and camaraderie and
the trend will be many specialized communities," he says.
Virtual communities can be found just about anywhere and are not just
for techies. In New York City, the World
Wide Web Artists Consortium has 2,800 members. It is free, self-policed
and unmoderated. A "list mom" talks to members if they get out of hand
and if that doesn't work, members can be unsubscribed from the list.
community's common denominator is to create stuff online," states Kyle
Shannon, the founder and president of WWWAC. "What's it is about, is
sharing of ideas, opinions and it's a generous group."
World Wide Web Artists Consortium holds monthly meetings and also
has SIGs (special interest groups) which focus on particular subjects,
i.e., advertising, business, interface & design, Internet law, Webcasting,
technology, E-commerce, database integration.
With the development of an online community, there are always interesting
results. Each community has a common bond that varies from one another.
"At CNN Interactive the focus is on news," says Lynn Clater, community
manager. "We get enormous spikes on human interest stories."
But within that event or news story, sometimes the people in the community
become the news. During the UPS strike last year, the strikers and management
of UPS chatted and shared information and opinions about the strike
but also posted the most recent developments of the strike on CNN Interactive.
Also, volunteers who police the message boards and chat rooms on CNN
Interactive are becoming a family to themselves. They share personal
news about their lives and families.
Clater also sees that online communities are becoming more and more
segmented too. "CNN Interactive plans to develop more segments or areas
for politics, medical concerns, literature and legal issues."
Virtual communities have been around from the beginning of the interactive
age. They do not create themselves, nor are they easy to create. Some
have succeeded, many have failed.
"Online communities will flourish, if they continue to provide top notch
value. A community will grow and adapt or grow and break," says Shannon.
"The major benefit of an online community is that you can be anywhere
and get value out of the community."