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Book review

Poor Richard's Building Online Communities, by Margaret Levine Young and John Levine

Top Floor Publishing, 2000, ISBN 0966103297. Order here from, Amazon UK, or directly from the publisher.

Cover of Poor Richard's Building Online CommunitiesReviewed by Jean Hollis Weber

Online communities are groups of people with common interests who use the Internet to build relationships and share information, experiences and advice.

This useful book answers the questions:

The authors describe a range of groups who use online communities to pursue many interests, including sports, religion, hobbies, parenting, medical conditions, professional interests, and almost any topic imaginable. Businesses and nonprofit organisations use online communities to keep in touch with suppliers, customers or members.

The book covers mailing lists, usenet newsgroups, internet relay chat (IRC), instant messaging, and web-based message boards and lists of various sorts. For each type of community, the book describes in details what it is, the pros and cons of using it, where to find existing groups, where to find services, how to set up and manage a group using the service, and how to participate in the group (subscribe, unsubscribe, post messages, and so on).

Much of the book is more of a reference work than something you would sit down and read cover-to-cover. This is good because you can read the more general parts, decide what you want to do, then go to the detailed parts of the chapters and follow the instructions to get started fairly painlessly.

The authors also deal with practical questions like publicising your group, making money (if that's among your goals), and maintaining members' privacy; and they discuss some of the human issues like putting out flamewars without being a total dictator. A chapter of true-life stories, an appendix of resources, and an index round out the book.

I will be using the book for my own education, and also recommending it to many people. It's particularly valuable for small business owners, leaders of community action groups, and other people just beginning to dabble in using the Internet and the Web (beyond e-mail and web-surfing), and not sure what will be useful for them, too hard to set up, or too expensive. This book will answer most of their questions, so I don't have to.

All the books in the Poor Richard's series do an exemplary job of providing the right information, at the right level, for their target audience. (I do quibble about some of the editing; my gripe with this book is its use of the generic "he" with random sprinkles of "he or she" and "his or her" where writing in the plural would have conveyed the idea just as clearly. But I didn't let that stop me from learning a lot.)

You can read the table of contents and sample chapters, and check links from the book, at the book's associated website,

The authors have coauthored many computer books, including Internet for Dummies, Windows 98: The Complete Reference, Internet: The Complete Reference, and E-mail for Dummies. They maintain a website with new resources and information at