The Latin roots of the words common, communication, community, commerce, commune and communism are the same. Because of the war between communism and capitalism, there is still an ideological divide in many people's minds between what is community and what is commerce.
In the early days, the internet was a close-knit community made up of academics and researchers. The idea of introducing commerce into the internet environment was regarded by many of these users as sacrilege. There was an argument that commerce somehow sullied things, and keeping the community pure meant keeping the whole essence of commerce out.
If the digital age is doing anything, it is forcing us to rethink our world and ourselves, to look at what we know with fresh eyes. The internet allows us to communicate with individuals via email on a one-to-one basis.
The Web is growing at the rate of one new site every six seconds and it is becoming much harder to find information through the search engines.
As a consequence, internet users are grouping together in like-minded communities on the Net. These community sites are increasingly being seen as the forum that marries the needs of millions of computer users with a platform for commercial success. Surfers want to meet people with similar interests and marketers want a cost-effective way to reach these vertical market groups too.
Communities are emerging among internet facility users, certain business sectors, professional groups, lifestyle groups, medical/ patient groups, internet games users, hobby and interest groups and nationwide trading partners.
One of the earliest community groups GeoCities, founded in 1995, now has 1.7 million members and around 10 million individual visitors every month. Business analysts predict a rosy future for the community concept, based around their success in attracting millions of members as well as success in signing up high profile retailers.
In fact, without the focus of an online community, successful e-commerce becomes an uphill battle. Communities are full of people and people buy things. However, communities contribute far more to the commercial landscape than just bringing people together. They provide structure and definition. They are the market place. Communities need commerce and commerce needs communities. When e-commerce is linked to a community Website it stands a much better chance of success. The mechanics can either be a link to a specific vendor's e-catalogue from a banner or a shared communal e-commerce facility.
Online retailing brings down the cost, general IT hassle and administration for small and medium-sized enterprises that need the internet to compete. In terms of the technology required, an e-commerce server, like iCat's, can be connected to, say, NetBanx secure transaction server facilities in the UK within a matter of weeks.
As for the internet communities themselves, as they get bigger and more successful they need more bandwidth, more servicing, moderation of content, IT maintenance. In order to survive they need an income. They need sponsorship, advertising deals, retailers - in other words, they need e-commerce.
Bill Daring is chairman and managing consultant of KMP Internet Solutions.
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