Howdy, Neighbor

Building community, instant online stores
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the January 2000 issue of . Subscribe »

Are you interested in building a Web site that sets your business apart from other sites on the Internet? You're not alone.

There are thousands of possible areas of interest on the Internet. Latching on to the one that encompasses your company's target audience is the best way to make your site the proverbial water cooler around which your market gathers. Take a look at these start-ups, whose sites boast an exceptional sense of community:

1.Offer a wealth of information., "The Jewish SuperSite," built by 30-year-old entrepreneur Jory Rozner, is devoted to Judaism through chat rooms, catalogued links, e-mail accounts and current news. Topics include everything from Torah study to matzo-ball recipes. The lesson for entrepreneurs: Cover your niche completely. "We have more information in one place than any other Jewish resource on the Web," says Rozner, founder of the Chicago company, "so [users] really don't need to go anywhere else."

2. Give users a sense of ownership. Financial news site Raging Bull, which hosts forums on more than 8,000 investing-related topics, lets users' posts (more than 25,000 per day) provide the bulk of the site's content. Company co-founder William Martin, 22, says featured posts and members-as-leaders are two important tools Raging Bull uses to make its audience feel like active participants and owners of the site.

"The real beauty of this 'community' is just that: the community," says Martin of his Andover, Massachusetts, company. "These people become friends and spend immense amounts of time online communicating with like-minded people--not just about stocks, but about their families, favorite sports teams and so on. Several months ago, 50 people from around the country from one of our [discussion] threads gathered in Boston for the weekend and went to dinner and a Red Sox game together. This bond gives us a unique edge over competitor's sites that are simply serving up a quote or a news story."

3. Teach beginners and experts alike. Whatever type of community you're building, you'll have members at all levels. Adagio Teas, an online retailer of fine teas, recognized that the Web meant opportunity--not only to sell to people who already like tea, but also to educate those who might like to try it.

"We designed our site to appeal to the 99 percent of Americans who have never tried fine tea," says Michael Cramer, 31-year-old owner of the Fairlawn, New Jersey, company. "The model we used was a very helpful store clerk. We want visitors to feel that there is someone on the other end of the [site] who is attentive to their needs and passionate about tea. We have no plans to venture beyond the subject of premium tea. But within this area, we plan to be the most comprehensive, imaginative and user-friendly site on the Web."

Shannon Kinnard is president of Idea Station, an e-mail marketing agency in Atlanta, and author of Marketing With E-Mail (Maximum Press, $24.95, 800-989-6733).

Just Add Internet

Are you looking to develop an e-commerce site--fast? Now there's a new place to turn to for help. Atlanta-based hosting company MindSpring Enterprises Inc.'s new division, MindSpring Biz, helps start-ups get online easily and affordably.

"Small-business owners need to focus on their businesses, [not on technology]," says Ed Douglas, vice president of sales and marketing for MindSpring Biz. "We give them the business tools to do that."

Forget the hassle of getting a secure certificate from one company, a merchant account from another and Web store software from a third. MindSpring Biz has e-commerce packages that bundle everything you need to get your online store up and running. The Intro package ($79.90) includes a store-building wizard, a shopping basket, basic statistics on who's visiting your store, secure order forms, hosting, domain registration, e-mail accounts/forwarding, disk space, search engine registration, customer feedback forms, secure server and password protection.

The Enhanced package ($109.90) includes all the above, plus enhanced store statistics and online credit card authorization; the Complete package ($209.90) includes everything in the Enhanced package, plus custom page creation. There's a $50 setup fee for each package.

For details, visit or call (888) M-SPRING.

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