Profiting from a community-based website WITHOUT advertisments


What are some ways of profiting from a user-driven community-based website? The client base is for programmers, and it promotes getting individuals to come together, work, and showcase their final product on the site itself.

We are big open-source fans, and we would like to keep the site as free/non-limiting as possible to all users. Therefore, we'd like to avoid charging users for the service directly, as well as avoid advertisements. Charging for premium services or extra features would definitely be considered. Any other innovative ideas to generate a profit in such circumstances?

Community Profitability

asked Apr 4 '12 at 10:33
Lance Lafontaine
190 points
  • Donations perhaps? – Jonny Boats 9 years ago
  • Your question is too broad. Any list of ideas is a valid asnwer. – Dnbrv 9 years ago
  • @JonnyBoats donations really don't work. There has been much blogged about revenue generated with donations and mostly it's negligible. – Jsz 9 years ago
  • You will get better response if you explain what your website does. – Prateek Narang 9 years ago
  • What does open source and not charging users directly have to do with one another? Are your customers programmers? Most people don't know how to compile code and implement software on their own; it's worth something to them. – Jeff O 9 years ago
  • I have edited to question to add more detail. Hope this clears things up. – Lance Lafontaine 9 years ago

6 Answers


I run a small url shortener that handles multiple urls (it compresses your open google chrome tabs into one link). If your users regularly post content links to other web sites consider affiliating those links. and will do this automatically for you. Personally I use viglink as skimlink only really accepts sites with solid content.

Example- in the case of viglink, if a users posts a link to a product on that link will be slightly modified (using javascript) when a user clicks on the link. This is then tracked through and you will receive a cut of any purchases made.

Try it out, it requires zero effort on your part and is unnoticeable to untrained users.

Other options include engaging users through sponsors (facebook is very good at this), premium services & content, donations (try flattr) and, if your site is valuable/large enough, and you can avoid the ethical issues, data mining.

Good luck!

answered Apr 5 '12 at 03:17
114 points
  • Wow, great comprehensive answer, just what i needed! Thanks :) – Lance Lafontaine 9 years ago
  • Why does the "unnoticeable to untrained users" point sound like cheating to me? – Ernes7a 9 years ago
  • dude you gave a brilliant idea! – User503148 9 years ago


As JeffS already mentioned donations are a way. These days Flattr has been useful for some.

Maybe you can do something with the content. Hacker Monthly is a well designed magazine, which get its content from Hackernews (they of course ask the people before they print).

They use magcloud for printing, some kind of "print a magazine on demand".

It all depends on what your website does.

answered Apr 4 '12 at 17:24
3,590 points


Conventional economics says that we should give as little as possible while taking as much as possible. Further, we should try to appear to be giving a lot while appearing to take little. Yuck.

I prefer transparency and sacred economics.

If you just put up a "DONATE" button, people will mostly ignore it. We're used to the idea that most of the internet is free. Retraining your users is hard, so be prepared to put some effort in to it.

The people who use your site and benefit from it can understand that it costs money to run, and that you have a need to make a living. You can explain why it's important to you to not to pick the other forms of revenue. For me, I might write:

Voluntary Payment Much of the internet is offered for free. Usually that means that you look at ads while you browse the web. I don't like ads. Whatever value I get from a web site is reduced by the ads I'm forced to view. I don't want to compromise the value of this site by littering it with ads.

You can donate to the costs for this site and my salary, which are detailed here. Your donation keeps the site running, and shows me that you want me to continue spending my days making this site better.

How much should you pay? Choose an amount you feel good about. When you choose the right gift, in this or any situation, you'll know it by a feeling of rightness, lightness, and clarity.

Perhaps you have a suspicious attitude toward me for requesting payment, imagining perhaps that all this "gift" talk is a stratagem to get more money. I don't want to sow that kind of cynicism. Instead, you could pay with a gift to someone else.

I took a lot of this from
answered Apr 7 '12 at 03:53
Jay Bazuzi
151 points
  • and combine this with adverts - you get the site for free with ads, or you can contribute anything and get the ads removed. Alternatively offer options like good, regular contributions and get the ad-free version then too. Slashdot does this - free with ads, but no ads if you buy a premium sub, or if you have consistently good 'karma'. The point is to reward regular users, while still gaining revenue from the 'guest' users and passers-by. – Gbjbaanb 9 years ago


You can think of building some Premium Services and charge for it.

answered Apr 4 '12 at 20:48
Prateek Narang
179 points


How about putting up some premium services and not charging for them, but instead requiring your users to answer single-question surveys to access the content? These surveys literally take seconds. What am I talking about?

Google just released Google Consumer Surveys. I don't know exactly what their criteria is, but I imagine it probably requires pretty high traffic right now. That said, the same was true before Adsense was launched in June of 2003, so just give it some time. I personally think it's something that could have a positive influence on the internet. I'd rather take 3 seconds to answer one survey question than be bombarded with 3+ (often flash banners) on every page load. More info:

Also, I second Paul's comments about Skimlinks and/or VigLinks. I personally have had much better luck with Skimlinks, but it seems like it could just vary based on the industry you are in.

Finally, depending on the type of forum you have and you're level of expertise on the topic, you might consider manually setting up a Reading List or Library similar to how you can do on Shelfari, but with affiliate codes, so you get a cut of the sales. I was shocked on one of my sites how it added up when combined with Skinlinks...not even including Adsense.

Good luck!

answered Apr 11 '12 at 23:59
21 points


Without charging users, advertising to them, having a sponsor (who would probably at least want a banner), or participating in some sort of affiliate program, I doubt you'll be able to successfully monetize a website beyond asking for donations.

answered Apr 4 '12 at 15:35
Jeff S
374 points

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