where "word of keystroke" begins

September 18, 1997 -- The Social Web: varieties of "community" experience

Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, September 18, 1997. These sessions are normally scheduled for 12 noon-1 PM Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4) every Thursday.

These sessions are hosted by Richard Seltzer. If you would like to receive email reminders of our chat sessions, simply send a blank email message to or go to and sign up there.
For transcripts of previous sessions and a list of future topics, click here .

For an article on how to make "business chat" work (based on this experience), click here .

Since the chat itself happens at a rapid pace, it's often difficult to note interesting facts in particular URLs as they appear on-line. Here's a place to take a more leisurely look. I've rearranged some of the pieces to try to capture the various threads of discussion (which sometimes get lost in the rush of live chat).

Please send email with your follow-on questions and comments, and suggestions for topics we should focus on in future sessions. So long as the volume of email responses is manageable, I'll post the most pertinent ones here for all to see. 

Threads (reconstructed after the fact):

Today's participants


Richard Seltzer -- We'll be starting in about half an hour -- at 12 noon Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4). Today we want to continue and expand our discussion of the "Social Web", going into the varieties of community experience.

Kathleen Gilroy -- Hi Richard--I'm happy to be here.

Richard Seltzer -- All -- please introduce yourselves as you connect, and tell us about your interests. That will help us get the discussion going quickly. -- Hello all - This is Bob, an independant consultant in the Dallas Ft. Worth area.

Kathleen Gilroy -- Hi everybody. I am the president of OTTER, a company in the distance learning business and I am interested in using the web to connect students and faculty.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome Kathleen and Bob -- glad you could make it.
I just added three follow-up messages to last week's transcript -- yours Kathleen about distance education and community, plus a message from Kaye Vivian about ICQ instant messaging, and Steven Dale on Placeware.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Todd, we're just getting warmed up.

Todd Moyer -- Hello, I'm a developer at DIGITAL.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Andy. We're just getting started.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Marc and bjoern, please introduce yourselves and let us know your interests.

bjoern -- Hi: I am still the same student from Germany working on his thesis about online chats and relationship marketing.

Marc Nozell -- I'm Marc Nozell, also a Digital employee. My interest today is online communities -- I've been active in the various internet genealogy activities.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Blair and "Simple Society"

Blair Anderson -- Hi there Richard et all.. plugging in from downunder...where I do a lot of everything...

Richard Seltzer -- Peggy Miller -- I see your name on the list of participants. Would you like to introduce yourself and let us know your interests? Time is short if you have questions and comments.

Peggy -- Hi everyone, I work with a multimedia company here in Newfoundland, Canada. Just sitting in for the first maybe I will have more to add the next time. 

Defining "Community"

Richard Seltzer -- Right now, I'm feeling inundated with information. There are far more social/community experiments in the works than I imagined. I'd like to try to find out more than is visible from a Web trip to a site. I'd like to hear from people who belong to/have used various would-be communities and the applications that they are built on. And at the same time, I'd really like to hear about the variety of community/social experiences out there. What do they have in common? What's unique? What are the business opportunities?

Sudha Jamthe -- Hi Richard. Have you already defined 'community" as many people see it?

Richard Seltzer -- Sudha -- Yes, of course, I forget the obvious :^) We should define the terms we are using. The word "community" has been used rather loosely in recent days. Many use it to mean the close loyalty and feeling of belonging that pre-Web folks experienced at the Well and elsewhere. I believe that today it is difficult if not impossible to achieve that ideal. But at the same time, the Web has become a much more "social" environment than it was a couple years ago -- due to lots of factors, but including personal Web pages, full-text search engines, chat, etc. Lots of businesses are now experimenting in creating social spaces of various kinds. 

Community and education

Kathleen Gilroy -- Based on my experience of creating temporary communities for education, I believe all communities are generated out of high degrees of affiliation. This can't be created--only massaged and managed.

Richard Seltzer -- Kathleen -- Yes, distance education gives this an interesting spin. I could imagine trying to build longer term relationships with students and among students at the same time as setting up temporary social environments for particular courses.

Kathleen Gilroy -- As a Stanford graduate (much in the news due to Chelsea), I have an email address via Stanford and access to all other alum's on line. This is a community I might join.

Richard Seltzer -- Kathleen -- what does Stanford offer to its alum? listing of email address and URL? access to alum-only chat and forums? personal Web space (either free or cheap)? etc.???

Kathleen Gilroy -- all of the above. The only real incentive for me is access to other alum's.

Kathleen Gilroy -- In the distance learning world, students need regular face-to-face contact in order to stay involved and not drop out.

Blair Anderson -- Kathleen: Brad Cox at GMU runs some very interesting distance learning programs.. well worth a look in..

Richard Seltzer -- Blair -- What is the URL for GMU? (And what does GMU stand for?)

Blair Anderson -- Brad is the Prof.. at George Mason Uni in Northern Virginia. I think the best way to plug into his extensive resources on the subject is to do a search on "Brad Cox".. he has an extensive set of URL's covering "Superdistribution" and Social Learning as well as "on-line degree courses".. (Brad is the C++/objects guru) 

Tripod and Geocities

Richard Seltzer -- A few days ago, as an experiment, I set up free Web pages at Tripod and Geocities. It was quite easy and painless. (A little easier at Tripod). Has anyone out there had direct experience with either of those or other businesses that are being built around providing free Web space?

bjoern -- Richard: I have a lot of friends who use the webspace at Geocities. Though not in any busness sense.

Todd Moyer -- Even the premium rate at Tripod was dirt cheap ($3/month). However, I still need an access provider to get on from home so it doesn't buy me much in terms of $$.

Richard Seltzer -- Re: free space. There's an interesting twist here. In the past, if I wanted to get "free space" I had to open an account with an ISP, even if I had Internet access through my employer or college. Now you just go to a Geocities or Tripod or others and set up your pages. You don't need an ISP account anywhere. You just need to be able to get to their Web site and have an email address already.

Richard Seltzer -- Todd -- as noted above, if you have access to the Internet from your employer (Digital), you don't need an access provider. From your Digital account, just connect to Tripod and set up your pages. (That just dawned on me a couple days ago.) 

Towns on line -- I am persuing a "community business-to-business-to-people" model in my area of Texas. My definition of "community" in this model is geographical and town related instead of a comradery type community. I believe, even though the Internet is Global, it can also be very local in operation. Comradery may come into play, but first I want to set up a locale association. Common interests will surely follow.

Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- The geography/town model certainly makes sense. It let's you tap into all the pre-existing real-world relationships. Do you have some URLs to point people to? -- Richard - Sorry, but the site I am setting up is still in a local mode on my server. The model is that I provide the site and community FREE. Phone books, Tourism info, maps, and links to relate city sites. The profitability comes into play when businesses want to embellish their presence with a personal site and/or internet consulting service.

Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- sounds like a good model. I believe that one of the major factors that make that doable is the fact that nearly everyone has or can have Internet access at a reasonable price. You don't have to mess around with the low-margin, high-hassle dial-up internet access business. Rather you build your business around those who are connected, giving them the value-added, often social, services that they crave.

USGenWeb Project

Richard Seltzer -- Bob -- re: towns on line. When I was speaking at Oak Ridge National Labs last week, someone asked me for advice in puting a town on-line. He was concerned because he knew of towns that were spending millions of dollars a year for their Web presence, and his town had no where near that kind of money. I suggested getting a bunch of volunteers to sign up for free Web space and creating a modular distributed Web site out of all the little free pieces simply by hyperlinks and maintaining a common look and feel.

Richard Seltzer -- All -- I'm particularly curious to find out if businesses and non-profit orgs are taking advantage of the free space and social/community services that are now being offered. If so, who and how? I mentioned the possibility of a town building an entire Web site out of lots of free pieces maintained by volunteers.

Marc Nozell -- Are you familar with the USGenWeb project? It is a group of folks around the US who are working to put up websites for every state *and* county. All volunteer, some use free webspaces, personal webspace or donated (from,

Richard Seltzer -- No, I hadn't heard about it. And I would like to learn more. Is there a URL? Have you been involved or heard of the experiences of folks who are? How do they juggle/manage when some sites many consist of lots of little freebie pieces?

Outside the US

Richard Seltzer -- What about folks outside the US who are trying to get access to US markets, whose countries have slow Internet connections -- can't they simply set up now on free or dirt-cheap space at sites in the US that have fast access? Anybody doing that?

Richard Seltzer -- Blair, do you know of folks in New Zealand taking advantage of the free Web space, free chat space, etc. offers now available from companies in the US? folks who are doing interesting business, profit-generating things in that new playground?

Blair Anderson -- In answer to the question on "free USA sites", these are readily used by many users in New Zealand.. although of late most ISP's now offer web hosting upto 10Mb..

Blair Anderson -- Richard: most users of the free sites are either inexperienced commercial users or "personal sites".

Blair Anderson -- One of the handier uses of one of the free web sites is as a "linkto" site.. necessary for some of us "plebs" in far off lands.. ie: as many of the
search engines don't troll our webspace. A useful one is at, where one can cludge a useful text and pointer to capture those who would otherwise miss. Regretably many of these are also polled by spam address hunter spiders.. 

It ain't easy

Kathleen Gilroy -- I don't think relationships can be built easily or cheaply. People have to be highly motivated and need great incentives to maintain these online relationships

Andy Morrison -- I agree Kathleen. It is easy to spend an hour in a chat room once. But to keep people coming back is an entirely different story.

bjoern -- Kathleen: But what if you can build about a strong community with strong interpersonal relations. This might increase or hold up the involvement.

Kathleen Gilroy -- You either have to start with strong interpersonal relations or have high motivation to build them (as in the dating/singles world)

Kathleen Gilroy -- I would like to see data on the number of hours per month people are actually using these sites. I bet many sign up and many drop out.

Andy Morrison -- Are we in the process of building an online community right here, right now by having these discussions about online communities?

bjoern -- Kathleen: But regarding to Rheingold's essays about the WELL, one can start up as well with nothing. Though it might be more difficult -as Richard quoted- in the WWW.

Kathleen Gilroy -- The old adage: you have time or you have money. Yes, you can start up with nothing. But then it takes you a long time to build up to something large (that may not be necessary.) It now takes money to engage people quickly.

bjoern -- Kathleen: Okay. We need a personal benefit that's clear. And you cannot reach everybody, but you have to focus on a few. But if we engage those few, using a moderator -as Richard advises in his essay "business chats..."-, we can get people being involved.

Richard Seltzer -- Kathleen -- I agree that coordinating lots of little freebie pieces could become a nightmare. But somewhere there is a happy medium, especially if the major job you are trying to accomplish can be logically segmented and there are motivated people who want to and can run those pieces. e.g., I could imagine a student taking on the responsibility of running a scheduled chat area that may reside on a different server, and may be free or cheap there -- and linking back from there to the course.

Kathleen Gilroy -- It's not so much the cost of infrastructure, but the cost of getting people to the site and managing the relationships once they are there.

Kathleen Gilroy -- Now that there are so many places for free listings and so many web pages, it's just like the phone book. Very random. This is not what I think of as community.

Richard Seltzer -- Kathleen -- I agree it is very random and at the same time very social. All these choices and so little time -- and hence so little loyalty. It's challenging to figure out the right mix to get the most out of what is available to meet your goals. Yes, I wouldn't call it "community" because that calls up for me images of the Elks and churches where the members feel allegiance to one another. But it is highly social -- very different from static documents linked to one another.

Kathleen Gilroy -- True, it's social--but it's communication by another means. No real different than the phone.

Richard Seltzer -- Kathleen -- I see a spectrum -- a wide range -- some of these sites with free Web space also make it easy for you to set up or join in chat sessions, etc. They all seem to want to be more community-like than they are; but it's not easy. Everybody seems to be throwing these ingredients in the pot: Web space, chat, forum/conferences, instant messaging. But what comes out depends a lot on the human elements -- the inspiration of the cook and how the people involved end up interacting or not with one another. This is not a milk run.

Blair Anderson -- "allegiance to one another. But it is highly social -- very different from
static documents linked to one another" Having recently tried IRC, at the other end of the scale, I found it to be more like CB-Radio.. "breaker breaker", largely ineffective for anything other than the restricted dialog set of the lowest common denominator.. Having
used internet phone, I found IRC lame as a business medium.. but great if one has nothing else better to do!

bjoern -- Richard: In my paper I came to the conclusion that the use of chat/forum utilities in Germany is mostly without any real concept!! The companies do it because of image purposes and not in the sense of building relationships nor communities.

Kathleen Gilroy -- I don't mean to be a luddite, but I do feel that it is the human element that makes all the difference and that we need to be careful about what we port to the web so that we gain in simplicity and benefits. The web may be best for transitory relationships, so it may not be wise to try and build long-term things on it.

Richard Seltzer -- Kathleen -- I'm in violent agreement with you. The human element is essential. All these applications are only as good as how we use them. yes, especially the latest and greatest stuff seems to focus on creating transitory people links. I'm not sure what can be built with them. But I'm sure it will take creativity and talent and lots of work. You're not going to build the relationships you want by way of automation (regardless of whether someone sells you a "social operating system.") 

Electric Minds

Richard Seltzer -- All -- another interesting example -- Electric Minds Founded by Howard Rheingold, the author of the book Virtual Communities (excellent, though written and published in 1993, prior to the Web). Nearly 100,000 members. Free membership gives you 1 Mbyte of Web space and the ability to participate in lots of social activities.

Richard Seltzer -- Re: Electric Minds. They just installed new software (from Durand Communications, which they seem to be associated with) called "CommunityWare". They call it a "social operating system." They include chat, instant messaging, conferencing (forum) and Web space. Everything is behind a password signin, so I don't believe this stuff gets indexed at AltaVista etc. (which is a real downer if you want traffic). But for $3/month (payable a year in advance) you can become a "Citizen" and can apparently quite easily build your own "community" there. Looks interesting. I'd love to hear from folks with direct experience. They have over 99,000 members and 2339 "communities" created by "citizens."

Simple Society

Richard Seltzer -- Simple Society -- I get your mailings and have taken a brief look at your Web site. Can you please explain your model and purpose for the folks who are here today?

Simple Society -- Our purpose is to fully empower everyone to be as healthy and productive as possible. Our goal is to construct a series of models that will reduce major social institutions and processes to the simplest form necessary to accomplish their intended purposes. In short, almost everything in our lives has become more complicated than necessary. The complexity gets in the way of empowerment and creativity.

Richard Seltzer -- Simple Society -- what does it take/cost to become a member of Simple Society? and what benefit do you get?

Simple Society -- Richard. Membership is $25/year. Benefits include our newsletter, participation on our new online discussion group related to human empowerment, and a involvement in a goal directed community related to human empowerment, equity and justice, government and political process. Check our web page at for more details.

Richard Seltzer -- Simple Society -- do you offer any personal Web space or personal chat areas or the ability to set up your own forum/conference?

Simple Society -- Richard: frankly, we just have our WebSite developed sufficiently to let other people know it exists. We don't offer others personal Web space and probably never will. We will offer a number of Email discussion groups, only one of which is going now. Whether we set up chat areas or forum/conferences is not decided. 

Genealogy -- Mail list community

Marc Nozell-- The genealogy world has created a very active community based around mailing lists. There are over 1600 lists on one server and service ~100,000 people. To be a list owner is only $20/year. 

Piggy-back business models?

Richard Seltzer -- With all these opportunities out there -- companies providing real business-applicable services for free or for little -- I want to figure out how I can for minimum cost and at maximum benefit set up modular distributed Web sites. What are the key pieces I need? Where are they available? How can I smoothly link them?

Richard Seltzer -- Kathleen, By the way, thinking of your distance education project, I can easily imagine your taking advantage of the free stuff that is being offered. E.g., it would be to your benefit for students to have their own Web pages. So point them to a place like Tripod -- provide them with some advice on what they should include on their pages, and provide a hyperlink list of their pages at your site. That adds a social dimension to your site/project, without your having to provide them with the Web space. Anyway, just a thought. 

Hot Wired

Richard Seltzer -- Another example -- Hotwired (which I hate because of the annoying graphics and the general tone) is trying a variety of "social" experiments. One of these is member profile pages -- it's like a real short and simple Web page, following their template. (I did one of those as an experiment). Then members can search among profiles to find folks of similar interest.

bjoern -- Richard: concerning the Hotwired's offer - aren't this only another marketing trick to get people linked to the other hotwired services, because everybody knows how people looking for freebies in the web...?

Richard Seltzer -- Bjoern -- Yes, Hotwired is extremely commercial. It is also heavy into demographics -- trying to create an environment that appeals to a particular age-group, set of interests and then selling advertising to those who want to target that group. And the profiles are another way to gather demographic info. I'm amazed at the variety of ways that the same basic capabilities can be applied by a business or organization. 

ICQ instant messaging

Richard Seltzer -- Kay Vivian sent email (which I just added to the last transcript at telling about ICQ and its instant messaging software. I just downloaded it, but haven't had time to install and test. They claim that 3 million people have downloaded this software since last November. It apparently lets you set up talk-like sessions with others who have that software and are on-line at the same time. Check They also let you set up your own chat room (They say that users have already created 3000 chat rooms. And they also like you create personal Web pages. I haven't had time yet to check all the terms etc. Is anyone out there familiar with them?

bjoern -- Richard: ICQ - it is a nice tool. -- Richard - when you get ICQ up contact me at 779704

bjoern -- Richard: ICQ - is a peer-to-peer chat utility; it also integrates other programs such as NetMeeting, EMail or phone utilities. The advantage of this tool is that once you and your netpals are registered at Mirabelis, one can exactly determine whether your friends are online... Because you get connected automaticly to the ICQ server after connecting to the internet

Richard Seltzer -- Thanks, Bob, will do. Bjoern -- are you a regular ICQ user? if so, have you seen unique business applications you could point us to or describe?

bjoern -- Richard: No I am not a regular user, because you need a real Internet access without any harsh proxy server. And as I am usaually connected to my university server that is highly restrictive (because of security means), I rather use ICQ. Therefore I haven't seen any business application of this tool. 


Richard Seltzer -- Another interesting tool is Placeware. Sudha (from Web-net) and I are going to check that out soon. It requires a plug-in, and probably a microphone, and seems to have trouble with firewalls. But we've heard very good things about the capability -- being able to combine voice and text in a chat session. 


Richard Seltzer -- All -- time marches on. I feel like we're just getting warmed up. I'd like to hear more about other social sites -- ones that are building businesses around providing free or cheap Web space and chat areas and other social services. I want to continue this topic next week. How do you folks feel about that?

Richard Seltzer -- All -- I'm also interested in business applications of these kinds of tools. Last week Bjoern made a distinction between low-involvement products (like wine) and high-involvement products (like Microsoft software) and the different kinds of community-like environments that can be built to support those businesses. I'd like to hear more about examples of those kinds -- user groups and social gathering places intended to make those who gather feel better about the product. I'm also interested in hearing more about distance education communities. The more examples the better. Please send email to me at and I'll add messages to the transcript (which I hope to have up in the next day or two -- check

bjoern -- Richard: To continue this topic is fine with me. I ve heard a lot of interesting things; and while contributing to this forum it helps me to think again about this stuff and my paper.

Richard Seltzer -- All -- before you sign off, please post your email address and URL (don't count on the software to have captured that.)

Kathleen Gilroy -- I will be out next week but will check the transcripts. Bye everybody.

Blair Anderson -- Perhaps we could look to extending the time a little.. it seems that we reach a point of dialog.. a sensing of what/who/where that is lost in the brevity of space here.. perhaps even another time/day slot..

Marc Nozell -- Marc Nozell marc@nozell.com -- Til - next week all... Let's try to focus ... focus ... focus
Bob Zwick ( Cottage Micro Services, 103 Vinyard Drive, Waxahachie, TX 75167

Richard Seltzer -- All -- hope you can join us again next week. Please spread the word. 


Bandwidth and community

From: Ed Jaros <> Date: Fri, 19 Sep 1997 22:59:01 -0500

I just finished reviewing yesterday's chat session transcripts. Interesting topic with a lot of areas for debate. Personally, I believe that as standard speed picks up the virtual comunity will follow. I'd can't wait for the day that i can go onto my computer and "take a walk" out into cyberspace to meet with (see and hear) in two way conversation simultaniously without distortion or delays. Being able to watch a football game with dozens of fans all around the world and be able to cheer and scorn together. Or go to a virtual nightclub just for real conversation with some multisensory interaction and not just a keyboard.

I unfortunately won't be able to make the chat anytime in the near future as i landed a new position at Procter and Gamble on a 3-6 month contract.

I will look forward to reading the weekly transcripts.

Ed Jaros

Genealogy and USGen Web Project

From: Marc Nozell <> Date: 22 Sep 1997 14:23:14 -0400

The URL for the project is:

I'm not really involved in that part of genealogy on the web, but have a feel for who it works.

Each state has a state coordinator (SC) that runs a mailing list for the USGenWeb project for that state that the county volunteers subscribe to. The SC sets up a state web site that is pointed to from and in turns points to the various counties for that particular state. Volunteers are solicited for each of the counties -- generally they live in that area or are active in the local genealogy society. Most counties have genealogy societies.

The USGenWeb folks have defined a minimal number of features each county website must contain and it is up to the SC to validate that the counties conform to the standards. See the USGenWeb home page to precisely what they are -- pretty minimal.

BTW, there are a couple of content based websites that have sprung up to help support the various free/low cost genealogy services. The primary ones are (RootsWeb Genealogy Data Cooperative -- who hosts a number of usgenweb web sites for free & offers cheap web and mailing list services) and (where the is officially headquartered)

While the various "traditional" commercial genealogy companies are also on the web, the content on those sites are minimal at best (and expensive to get to the "good stuff"). and are the most content rich by far.

Marc Nozell <>

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