Skip on down to the very bottom of this page and read backwards to follow this blog from start to finish.


Adida, B. (2007) Privacy vs. Omnipotence, Mashups and your browser [Internet]. Benlog, Harvard. Available from: <; [Accessed 5 December 2007]

Bales, R. F. (1970) Personality and Interpersonal Behaviour. New York. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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Facebook (2004) Facebook [Internet]. Palo Alto, California. Available from: <; [Accessed 9 October 2007].

Hauben, R. (1995) The World of Usenet, Chapter 4 [Internet]. Netizens, An Anthology. Available from: <; [Accessed 7 January 2008]

HotUKDeals (2000) Corsair 4GB Voyager USB Flash Drive Hi Speed USB 2.0 [Internet]. London, UK. Available from: <; [Accessed 15 December 2007]

LabourSpace (2007) Campaign to give more support to UK based Inventors [Internet]. London, UK. Available from: <; [Accessed 29 November 2007]

PESGaming (2006) PESGaming Forums [Internet]. Leeds, UK. Available from: <; [Accessed 16 October 2007]

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SitePoint (1998) LCD Screen and smoke [Internet]. Melbourne, Australia. Available from: <; [Accessed 30 October 2007]


Over the past 12 weeks I have looked at many issues related to the use, and running, of online communities. Over the Christmas period, in addition to eating turkey until it came out of my ears, I have spent time pondering just how I can wrap everything up in a concluding entry.

In 1970 when R. F. Bale identified the ways in which communities interact, I dare say he never contemplated users creating a whole new personality and interacting with it in programmes such as Second Life. Although we can clearly identify the differences between the first communities which sprung up online during the Internet’s infancy and software like Second Life, there still remains an underlining similarity between those first communities and today’s modern projects.

Despite Facebook being populated by users from different backgrounds and walks of life, the fact is that just like Usenet Newsgroups from the early 90’s, where users gathered due to a shared interest, so to do the users of Facebook where the shared interest is socialising with their peers.

Myspace is a web based community which has evolved a step beyond the obvious social-networking aspect, becoming the in-place for up and coming artists to make a name for themselves and have their songs heard. Likewise there are indeed now many communities which, on the face of it, do not even appear to be ‘communities’ as we have learned to know them. Flickr and YouTube are two good examples of this, where users can share pictures and videos respectively. But again, with these examples the underlining concept behind a community is still there; the shared interest… only unlike the communities of days gone by, these communities stand to make somebody rather rich!

Online communities seem to me to be evolving at such a rapid rate (And I am not just talking about how within two years Facebook has gone from obscurity to world domination). Just look at the rate of technological advances in relation to the communities – How businesses can now freely conduct meetings via video link, or how web applications have rapidly becoming increasingly centred on the user participation as opposed to the web being a source of information. Just 5 years ago when I first began making my own online communities in the form of a message board, the focus was certainly on sharing information and views – this is no longer enough, people are demanding more.

And what about in 10, or 20, years time from now? Will we still be communicating like I am now – via a text based means, or will I have said all of this via audio or video and published that instead? Indeed, will we even need keyboards given the advancements in voice-to-text software? How about our identities, is it still going to be in our hands who knows what about us, or is software like Beacon going to monitor our every move online?

My opinion, based on the speed of web evolution which I’ve observed in the last 5 years – nothing would surprise me.

What a bargain!


The face of the web marketing is changing. Users are becoming blind to conventional advertising (though my Grandfather still believes it when it says his screen tells him “You win the prize for being the 10 millionth visitor!”). Companies are realising the need to utilise its members in order to generate more sales. A great example of this would be Amazon’s recommended lists produced by fellow shoppers. Just 3 short years ago another web company spotted the decline in income from standard ‘banner’ advertising and created an entirely user-run entity known as HotUKDeals.

HotUKDeals is a web community which exists to allow people to share information, unsurprisingly, about Hot UK Deals. An example deal can be found here. Users can then rate the deal Hot or Cold – with the hottest deals going onto the homepage, while all other deals remain in the forum area of the site. Although not selling any products directly, HotUKDeals generate their revenue from affiliate links which are automatically placed where possible in the deals posted. If a deal is posted for, for example, the URL would be recognised and replaced to include an ID tag which will let know where the sale originated from.

The concept of sharing deals is, of course, not new to many of us. I am quite certain at some point we all have been informed of a great product at a great price by a friend. But by harbouring the technologies available and identifying what the public wants, HotUKDeals has created a VERY profitable website (the site currently attracts anywhere up to 7,000 users online at any one time).

The site does have potential drawbacks, however. Occasionally people submit voucher codes or link to deals which are illegal. An recent example of this happening is the posting of a code exclusively for use by NHS staff. In that particular instance the code was removed without any action from the retailer it was attached to. However, there have been reports of some companies who HotUKDeals links too seeking compensation after voucher codes where made public by the HotUKDeals community.

Other websites who formally relied on ‘banner’ advertising are also now taking note of HotUKDeals rapid rate of success and moving away from banners to concentrate on more personal adverts. Contextual text-adverts are one of the key emerging technologies from the past 5 years as far as webmasters are concerned. The ads read the content of a page and provide users with adverts which match what is on the screen. The idea being the user will be far more interested than a standard banner which displays the same image no matter what the page. Unlike the Beacon project (discussed last time), contextual text-ads do not invade your privacy as although they are displaying ads relevant to you, they are not using your own personal details to generate them.

Every time you log onto the Internet, your actions are being logged and someone (or something) is making use of your online habits.

One site which profits from this technology is Amazon. Unless it is a first visit, every time you log on to Amazon you will be presented with recommended products for purchase. Amazon collect this data based upon your past purchases as well as other peoples similar purchases to your own. This technology has been in place for several years, but recently the Facebook Beacon project gained a lot of bad press for a similar type of software.

Beacon records user actions from various websites and then passes this data onto Facebook. How do they do this? I can’t say I personally understand all the technical jargon, but here is an extract from an article about the project written by Ben Adida:

The reconciliation happens in your browser, of course, since your browser is logged in to Amazon and (most likely) to Facebook. The Amazon HTML includes some JavaScript code that it pulls down from Facebook. This JavaScript code opens up a hidden frame onto Facebook, which recognizes you. There’s some fancy inter-server communication stuff going on (the details are interesting only to folks like me), but the point is that the communication between Amazon and Facebook is mediated by your browser.

Initially, there was no opt-out option from sending this data, but after all the negativity Facebook swiftly moved to ensure users where aware of the information being sent.

Although both Amazon and Beacon essentially do the same thing (gathers information about others to recommend things to you) there is one significant difference; the Amazon algorithms for producing the suggested links don’t expose any individuals personal data. This is Beacons major downfall. People don’t want the fact that they just purchased a cuddly toy from on their Facebook profiles – after all, it could well be a gift for a friend. On the other hand, if Facebook merely used the users purchase history privately and displayed relevant product ads to them, I doubt there would be too many complaints. Using the technology in this way would no question increase ad-revenue for Facebook as they would be providing user-generated targeted ads.

What does Beacon signal for our all round user privacy online? Beacon gathers it’s data by harnessing the power of your web browser. If you log into Facebook and then in the same session log into one of the partner sites your data is being exposed. What about when Beacon expands? Your every action could theoretically be tracked.

Visit illegal sites? They’ll know.

Buy your wife’s Christmas present from a second hand auction? They’ll know.

Download music without paying? They’ll know.

The legitimate uses for Beacon are of course clear (as Amazon’s similar technology has proven), but once other companies ‘cotton on’ to this new found possibilities of communicating within your browser – we could all be at risk of losing our online freedom.

In the US, politicians have long since been making use of the web as a key tool to encourage people to vote. Slowly, but surely, this trend is making its way across the water. Indeed, in a recent list published by ‘Short List Magazine’ Issue 22 on November 22nd, politics came out 7th in the top ten most blogged about subjects in the UK (perhaps unsurprisingly moaning came out top!).

Online communities can prove very powerful in raising the number of votes a particular party receives. Social networking sites in particular have great significance. By creating a group on a site like Myspace, a party can reach out to younger voters who would not normally be interested in politics. In some constituencies candidates have used the major networking sites (Myspace, Facebook and Bebo) to encourage participation in electons.

One such politician who I recently read about is Labour MP for Loughborough, Andy Read. Andy has his own blog, as well as profiles on all popular Social Networking sites. The benefits of this are quite clear – increased exposure and staying better connected with the citizens of Loughborough. Indeed Andy himself points out:

I aim to provide an effective service to my Loughborough constituents at every level – and that increasingly means via this website and other web 2.0 applications.

Politicians do need to tread very carefully on the web, however. Some sites I have found go as far as allowing discussion boards for people to post comments or share opinions. This material can often go against (or indeed be offensive) the views of the politician or their party. To some readers, this content could be seen as being promoted by the party. is a new venture similar to that which have already proved successful in the US. It allows the public to identify issues in their local area and create a campaign to promote it. People can then vote for or against the campaign, with the most popular issues highlighted on a monthly basis. At the time of writing, the most popular campaign was for more support to be given to UK inventors. Despite being the top pick of the month, only some 300 people had actually voted for the motion… showing that clearly the concept has only thus far reached out to a very small minority of Britains 60 million inhabitants.

When considering all the types of communities that exist, often the most obvious are over looked. This very software upon which this blog is written, for example, has a community of web developers behind it.

In this article I will look at the role of communities within organisations. There are various types which can be utilised but the most common is an Intranet system. This allows users to share files, discuss issues and manage e-mail. Unlike many communities online, those which relate to organisation have far more stringent rules. Generally speaking, the format is very formal and there is rarely any abuse of the rules. Doing so would bring consequences to the user as you can’t hide your identity or change it, unlike regular communities such as forums.

The key benefit to a community in an organisation is the ability to share information quickly and efficently between many users. In a University, the community exists to store lecture notes and to publish assignment materials. In addition discussion boards benefit the students by allowing them to share ideas or receive answers to their queries. Such discussion does need to be heavily moderated, however, to ensure students do not share work or plagiarise other peoples material.

Intranet can be looked upon as a complete contrast to ‘Web 2.0′ social networking sites; although both have the same base functionality (user discussion and sharing of information), when using sites like Facebook or Myspace, you can never be certain of who you are conversing with, whereas with Intranet there is no opportunity for false identity.

Being critical towards the use of Intranet, it can be said that people lose a proportion of their face-to-face contact with their peers. People become more inclined to post questions on a discussion forum as opposed to discussing it in person. The workplace is beginning to follow a similar trend that of the boom of sending SMS text messages over phone calls. In another 10 years time, will we still be phoning in sick for work or just sending the boss a message in the community?

Considering the vast amounts of online communities that exist, it probably comes as no surprise there are thousands of people trying to exploit their users. TV adverts will have you believe that all you need to stay safe online is the latest expensive updates of McCarefree anti-virus, but when someone contacts you personally no amount of spam filters or firewalls can protect you.

Communities such as eBay (yes, it IS a community!) main business is to encourage the sale of goods in a safe online environment. Recently there has been an emergence of people using eBay for what are known as cheque over-payment scams. These con-artists look to steal money from you by offering what seems like a great price for your goods via private e-mail or message on eBay. What they don’t offer is direct payment by credit card or PayPal, but instead say they will send you a cheque. If you choose to go ahead, you’ll end up with a nasty bank charge for the cheque bouncing – as well as no longer having the goods as you sent them on!

These kind of activities are not limited to eBay. I recently listed my own laptop on Facebook’s marketplace. Initially I received honest and genuine inquiries, but after it had been listed for 2 weeks I began receiving dubious e-mails from users from outside of the UK asking to buy the item via cheque. As a regular user of the Internet, I was of course aware of what they were trying to do. But what about a newcomer to the web?

I think with eBay it’s well documented the risks as buyers and they have prominent warnings about how to conduct safe transactions. Sites like Facebook, however, which offer a marketplace as an ‘added extra’ to their primary activity (social networking in this case) don’t seem to bother with some stringent rules or warnings. What makes matters worse is one of the scammers on Facebook who contacted me had a full blown profile complete with some friends on his list to make him seem all the more genuine. A less knowledgeable user could easily have been sucked in by the blurb sent by the con-man.

In order to combat this problem, online communities such as message boards and social networking sites which offer market places need to encourage their members to read thoroughly warnings about making transactions with people they do not know or trust. eBay’s feedback system goes a long way to helping people making safe purchases, but when on a marketplace like at Facebook you are relying entirely on personal judgement.