A certain genealogy Website emphasizes about building community among its subscribers. Enroll and you can not only get help building a family tree, but you can receive recipes, baby pictures, and reminders about who is having a birthday. Yes, the effort to build community is everywhere, not just in the accounting world. It’s an effort that is often misdirected.

Everyone with a Web page seems to want to foster community. Site owners attempt this through discussion groups, through all sorts of features that are supposed to bind their customers together. And I think this effort to force-feed community to Web-page visitors and e-newsletter readers often misses the mark.

Community is valuable. But it’s not built through electronic discussion groups, at least, not the broad-ranging kind of community that is supposed to embrace thousands of people who will be better customers because they identify with the vendor offering the Web page..

If I’m having a problem with a piece of software or if I have a question about a product or service, I want specific answers that are delivered as clearly and quickly as possible. I’m not looking to enter into a wide-ranging and time- consuming discussion. I’m not necessarily seeking to identify with other users of that product or service.

Discussion groups are useful. But even the most targeted often develop into an in-group of vocal visitors, surrounded by lurkers. Pick a topic and visit different discussion groups that feature that subject, and you will often find, not a wide-ranging interchange of ideas, but the presence of a handful of participants, who have the time and interest to devote to such discussion. These people may provide valuable information. But that’s not really a community. It’s a volunteer support service.

Community cannot be built solely through electronic means. I think that meaningful efforts must take place face-to-face, at trade shows, conferences, cocktail parties, and at the old stand-by, the golf course. In fact, I think one of the successes of Great Plains has been community building. But it starts with the in-person events such as the Stampede reseller conference.

Web sites and email newsletters can only support community. They cannot be the primary tools.

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