A former community discussing the business of software, from the smallest shareware operation to Microsoft. A part of Joel on Software.
We're closed, folks!
Doug Nebeker ("Doug")
I've been asked to get involved in building a specialist community using vBulletin. There's no product behind this, just a desire to build up a community from scratch.
There's no money on offer for my time, but equity in a new company has been offered. I'm concerned that getting anything like this off the ground and making a success of it in this day and age - especially if it is built on a commodity system like vBulletin and simply styled using a modded template - is going to be nigh on impossible.
I rather feel that forums-in-and-of-themselves are a bit old hat, and to make a success of them - e.g. 'mums net' or similar - will require a huge amount of luck and effort to even get any momentum at all.
So... hiding to nothing or worth a punt? I've pretty much made my mind up but I'm curious to hear what you lot think :)
"There's no product behind this"
You have my permission to run away and not put another minute of your time towards it.
You're right, this is an old idea, and the list of failures in this space is formidable. The only time it has been successful was when the online community was a gateway to getting what you really wanted, such as email and internet access with Compuserve and AOL, crowd-sourced expertise like Stack Exchange. or instant web pages for your band like MySpace. Even with the shining stars of this genre, profits are hard to come by and they lose momentum after 3-4 years. Facebook isn't an online community, it's a way to visit people you know without their participation. The missing ingredient in any online community is compulsory membership, people come and go at will, so there is no need to sacrifice for the community. You won't get any argument from me, this is a bad idea.
I can't say it won't work, because I doubted of many things that seemed stupid and later became a big success (twitter anyone?).
I saw a guy start a blog about airfare promotions and grow it a lot in a few years to become the next tripadvisor in my country.
So... it depends. Nevermind the technical side, if it will use vBulletin, a stackoverflow clone or a CMS site. Are there a lot of people that need such a site? Is there a relevant search volume for the product keywords? Are there other sites doing it? Competitors are a good signal that there is a market. After the community is created, how will you make money? Are there advertisers or add-ons for the product, or will you depend on the product maker?
After a decade failing, now I know that I must first find something that enough people want and would pay for, and then research how I can offer a good product for the market. I spent many years creating products for markets that didn't exist... Spend lots of time evaluating your market properly and you'll save a lot of time on development.
Monday, March 18, 2013
The CPM value of web advertising is continually falling and the competition of attention is always increasing. Also you have to reach a critical massow are you going to do that with no product behind it? On the basis of the limited information you have given us - run away.
You might find some of the CPM figures in here useful:
Monday, March 18, 2013
My first attempt at business was a free-to-use web app which would pay for itself (and hopefully turn a profit) via ad revenue.
Won't make that mistake again :/
Monday, March 18, 2013
Looking at it from a different perspective: why do you need the others?
If I'm reading this correctly, they asked you to be an active member of the forum (post new content, answer questions etc.) presumably because you have some expertise in that field.
What they bring is an installation of vBulletin.
Why can't you do it on your own? Install vBulletin (or Vanilla or discourse) and get all the benefit from your effort.
Of course it's possible that they bring much more additional value - can't tell from info provided.
But my bigger point is: if you're an expert in some topic, you can build such content-driven projects on your own. It doesn't have to be a forum: could be a blog or a book-as-a-website.
Even if you'll fail commercially, you will build additional reputation as an expert in the field, which never hurts.
This is pretty much why I blog: I blog about deeply technical things that I explored and I'm pretty sure much a lot of job offers I get is because of that.
Or see http://thestartuptoolkit.com/blog/ for a great example of someone who had something to say, blogged those things and then organized them into almost a book.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Thanks folks. To be honest, I was approached with an entirely different concept, which then evolved into this 'all-encompassing community' idea. And I'm old-school; I've written pretty fully-featured forum software before - in fact, one of mine is still going and turns 12 in a week or two (but looks it ;-) If I'm going to get involved, I'd far rather build something of value, rather than reheat some vBulletin templates. For me, a lot of the fun is in building something new.
The original concept was, in my opinion, a better thing; I'm bound by a gentleman's agreement not to disclose this, but what I can and have said is that going back to that concept might be better, since it fulfills something of a gap whereas 'yet another forum' does not.
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