How does one go about starting a community/forum?


Active forums and communities take on a life of there own. My question is how to get started. A forum with tumbleweeds rolling through it will never get anywhere. There is some kind of minimum viable activity level. How do you get there quickly?

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asked Mar 19 '11 at 04:08
Kenneth Vogt
2,917 points

2 Answers


Critical mass is always a huge concern for businesses that look to take advantage of the network effect.

My advice is to go where the traffic is, instead of trying to get the traffic to come to you. Can you enable your community or discussions on facebook? Are there existing websites that you could layer a community on top of?

That said, there are a few ways to avoid the "empty ballroom" syndrome:

  1. Create value for your initial users. Some incentive to
    participate in the early
    goings....whether that is premium
    access to other products/services
    you offer or something more
  2. Seed the community with users and content. This can be done via a
    partnership with another site that
    already has traffic. In addition,
    you can create the first wave of
    content using yourself and your
    staff or friends/family.
  3. Keep the focus VERY narrow. Small bars seem to have more going
    on than large open dance floors with the
    same amount of patrons. By keeping
    the topics extremely focused, you
    can insure more activity per
    topic/question. Expand topics as
    your audience expands and demands
    it....don't try to give them
    everything right away. content and value for an audience in other ways than just the community/forum! Your product should be improved by the network effect, but not completely rely on it to succeed.

answered Mar 19 '11 at 04:16
Andy Swan
1,656 points
  • You captured exactly what I was concerned about with the "empty ballroom" vs. "small bar" analogies. – Kenneth Vogt 13 years ago


First you need a hot topic area that a lot of people are interesting in like... the in's and out of using Paypal.

Then you need some good Q&A forum software like.... StackExchange.

Then you kickstart it with some questions that you already know the answer and invite about 20 of your friends to participate early on so there is always some fresh material.

answered Mar 19 '11 at 04:30
Mike Walsh
745 points
  • I love StackExchange but it is rather hard to start a new forum with it. It requires - wait for it - an active community first. ;-) – Kenneth Vogt 13 years ago
  • @Kenneth Vogt - Whatever software you use, make sure it has an explicit Karma point system. That helps the forum stay in focus. – Mike Walsh 13 years ago
  • So @Mike Walsh, got any suggestions without the onerous startup requirements of our beloved StackExchange? – Kenneth Vogt 13 years ago
  • @kenneth Vogt I don't have any specific recommendations. If your intent is to act as the "answer man," then you probably can get by with a system a lot less complicated than StackExchange. FYI, you might be interested in watching Joel Spolsky's presentation at Google on the Sociology of StackExchange/StackOverflow. Here the link - Walsh 13 years ago

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