Poor Richard
Book Review

Poor Richard’s Building Online Communities: Create a Web Community for Your Business, Club, Association, or Family
Margaret Levine Young and John Levine

Top Floor Publishing
ISBN 0-9661032-9-7
US $29.95
372 pages not including index

This is the second book in the Poor Richard’s series to come my way, and it’s another winner. The authors, Margaret Levine Young and John Levine, have been seriously involved in building an extensive online community for a large nonprofit organization since “way-back” in 1994. [note: though it’s never been scientifically proven, Internet Years are something akin to Dog Years!] Their knowledge and grasp of the many vehicles for creating and maintaining online communities is apparent in the very first chapter, where I found out that MUD and MOO are not necessarily what my 6 year old thinks!

Who should read this book? Are you interested, either directly or indirectly, in building an online community — it might be as an extension to an existing community such as a church or nonprofit organization, or an association of some kind. Have you been asked to expand your webmastering skills for a client to take on the challenge of building additional asynchronous or real-time interactive services, such as a chat group or support forum? Have you recently become active in an online community and wish to help out with moderation duties, or expand the options for users into other types of communication like e-mail, Internet Relay Chat, or a web-based message board? Or are you one of the brave sort who has an idea for a community that has never been properly begun and you’d like to launch it successfully, but are somewhat less than flushed with cash? Margaret and John have you in mind, along with the needs of your community. If you have a question, the answer is probably in this book, or at the very worst, a dozen links to places where you can get an answer.

If you are fairly new to the Internet, the first five chapters will bring you up to speed on what is currently available, how to participate effectively, and some pros and cons for each successive tool. You’ll come to understand how the asynchronous (those that allow participants to interact on their own time) and real-time (those that involve participants interacting live, as the name implies) options can best be combined to serve the needs of your particular community. You will not feel you’re been forced to pick one over another, or that there is any particular RIGHT WAY to do this. Each community takes on unique aspects that will dictate the best way for you. This book will help you ascertain some of those characteristics and choose appropriate options.

If you are already an experienced participant but need some guidance to help you become a more effective community you’ll probably skim the first few chapters and want to study the chapters on growing and managing your community, chapters 12 through 16. One of the great advantages to this type of book is that it has something for everyone, and the resource links alone are worth the price of the book. But I found the section dealing with publicizing and encouraging users, handling dissension, and managing multiple communities to be extremely helpful.

The final chapters, 17 through 21, contain true-life stories from other communities and these will round out your understanding, giving you a kind of “Big Picture” of this subject.

The only “weakness” with a book like this, is that it covers a lot of technical subjects in less than 2,000 pages, which is difficult to do. At times you may feel like you are reading a book of lists. The prose doesn’t flow for much length without frequent references with links or lists of links. While it does give you some reasoning behind various options, it’s more about how to use the options than it is about why to use them. But in the final analysis, I don’t think your Internet Community Building library would be complete without this book. I think it will be referred to time and time again.

Every Internet-related book should contain an appendix with lots of links to online resources where you can get in-depth information on specific topics or about specific tools or support services. I don’t think anyone does it better than the Poor Richard’s series and this is not exception. The last 27 pages are devoted to links to more resources online. Guess what?! The links are all provided for you online from their support web site (they practice what they preach) along with a table of contents and some sample content.

If you’ve read this far, you are likely a community organizer or seriously considering getting involved in hosting, managing or starting an online community. If that’s the case, consider this book a must-buy.

If you have an inkling to write or express your ideas to a wider audience through the Internet, you need this book.

MacMice Rating: 4 out of 5

Jeffrey McPheeters

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