Defining Social Networks and Online Communities:
1. General Communities
This refers to websites that encourage users to share interesting content, make plans, create events, and just socialize. A good example is Bolt.com, one of the first social networking sites to pop up in the late 90s. In the case of Bolt.com, the site used corporate sponsorship to generate revenue. They featured ads from Verizon, Sony, and Gilette, to name a few.
2. Practice Networks
These sites are similar to general communities, in the sense that many of them offer the same features. However, they are specifically tailored for certain professional interests, such as art, music, or career networking. Deviantart is a fabulous example of a practice network. Here, a collection of professional and amateur artists gather to share their artwork, give feedback to one another, and even shop for prints of your favorite work. This is how the site produces revenue, by C2C transactions which they then receive a percentage of.
3. Interest Based Communities
An Interest Based Community differs only slightly from a Practice Network. While a practice network is for professionals, an Interest based community is for anyone with a specific interest in a certain subject. It could be about DIY crafts, home-brewed beer, or cooking (can you tell I’m hungry?). The site 4chan is a decent example. It was created initially for users to share images of their favorite anime and manga (Japanese cartoons), and to comment on each other’s posts. According to the founder of the 4chan, it is an income generating site but he was very vague on the specifics.
4. Affinity Communities
Affinity Communities are based on demographic information. There are communities for men, women, immigrants, people of very specific ethnic heritages, the list goes on. If you belong to a particular group, say you’re Jewish – there’s an affinity community site out there for your social networking needs. For example, Schtik is a site just for Jews who want to meet other Jews from around the world. You can share videos and pictures, create a blog, and chat with your fellow Jews. It’s kind of awesome. As for generating income, the site has a few banner ads from Adidas, so my guess is they make a little money off sponsorship ads from several companies.
5. Sponsored Communities
Sponsored Communities are sites created by businesses, political organizations, and sometimes even for not-for profit entities, for multiple purposes. Usually, the goal seems to be to keep consumers feeling involved in the brand, talking to each other about the product, and generating more interest in the company. In the case of a non-profit organization creating a sponsored community, the site is likely built to keep interested parties in the loop with events, and to give them a forum to discuss issues related to the cause. An example of a sponsored community is Coca Cola. They are a giant company, and I’m sure they generate a lot of revenue from their website. You can order their products directly from the website.
6. Enterprise Portals
The best way to explain an Enterprise portal is to think of it like this: A private corporation or organization’s general purpose portal. You come to work, log in, and go to your company’s enterprise portal. This site will help you access HR, maybe view your previous paychecks, see what’s new with the company, and provide some of the same features as a general purpose portal (see below). The site is tailored for the specific organization and the people affiliated with it. For instance, when I worked for Grange Insurance, we had an enterprise portal for employees. It was pretty helpful and had all sorts of cool features to make work interesting, educational, and fun. They had a few apps and games, which I’m sure they made some profit from, as well as subscription services if you wanted to upgrade the content of the site.
7. General Purpose Portals
These portals are designed to take care of your every need. They don’t want you to navigate away from the site, so they give you every possibly feature available: email, blogging, chatting, social networking, news, videos, music, stock market ticker, you name it. Google is working on becoming one of these General Purpose portals. They offer all sorts of options to customize your homepage to include your Gmail inbox, keep track of your interests (or your friend’s comings and goings) and yada yada. A general purpose portal can make money several different ways. They can offer free services, but have you pay subscription fees to use others. They also feature advertisements both on the main site and within apps and games featured on the site.
8. Vertical Market Portals
This type of portal is much more focused than general content portals. Lately, vertical market portals have been adding some of the same typical features of general content portals, such as weather and news, in an attempt to retain a larger audience. However, these portals are created for specific interests. They usually fall into one of two categories: Affinity groups or Focused content groups. For example, WebMD is a great place to self-diagnose your health problems, learn about new medical breakthroughs, and read up on all things health-related. They feature some banner ads here and there, and offer services that you can only access after signing up.
9. Affinity Groups
Affinity groups refer to portal sites that cater to communities of people who all have certain demographic/interest based similarities (see Affinity Communities above for clarification). An example would be JBC.org (The Journal of Biological Chemistry) which is a site that caters to the scientific community. You can access all sorts of interesting information in this website. They generate revenue using banner ads.
10. Focused Content Groups
A focused content group is a portal for much more specific interest groups. For example, the World Cup is going on this month and milllions of people are checking Fifa.com daily to see updated scores and watch replays. You can access ticket information, purchase fan memorabilia, and play games. All of these features are part of how the site earns money from visitors.