Gated Community Websites

by Mr. Cheap

One of the natural tendencies of anonymous (or semi-anonymous) communication is that people act like jerks (“Trolls” is what the kids call them). I was a SysOp on a BBS (think mini, proto-internets) years ago. There would be message boards (forerunners of the forums we see today) and without fail they would degenerate into a flame war, drive people off, then run smoothly for a while until the next one occurred.

I see the same thing happening with forums and sites that allow comments today. When its small, you get a community of smart people having great discussions (“think Four Pillars” he modestly suggested). When it gets too large, the trolls drive off the decent people and you’re left with Slashdot (I love the posts, can’t stand the comments – I don’t think the people who run it even read them).

This business would be an infrastructure for creating private versions of public websites. Say you like Slashdot, and would like to talk about the articles, but can’t stand the comments on the main site. A mirror of the site would be set up, that would either post the articles in a simple form (strip all the style away from it – you could just format their RSS feed), or would automatically duplicate the look of the site (which wouldn’t be too great of a technical challenge, see below). The comment area would be replaced with a private comment area (on this business’ server). You invite people you like, kick off the idiots, and maintain the community you want to interact with.

Companies could do this to allow them an area to privately and confidentially exchange ideas on topics relevant to the company. Perhaps Microsoft would like to have discussions about articles posted on Slashdot, but don’t want the world at large to be able to view them or participate. Perhaps Investors Group would like to have their own private versions of top personal finance blogs to discuss how to use the ideas presented to market their products, perhaps a research group would like to talk about way to extend research other groups are working on and discussing.

I am not a lawyer (although I play one on the Internet), but my understand is that there’s ways to re-mix websites in this manner that are legal (one option is to have the USER load the content from the original site, then make modifications on his computer. Greasemonkey is an example of something along these lines.

If you were targeting companies, this could be sold as enterprise software. If you were targeting consumers, you could slip your own ads into the pages you were generating, or charge the “host” (the guy who originally sets it up and moderates it) of the private site.

For this post, or any other of the wacky business ideas I post, obviously I’m releasing any ownership claims I may have over these ideas. If you like something I post and feel like you can make money from it, please feel free to do so! Let me know when you’re opening and we’ll do a post on it to give you some free advertising.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kyle

The only problem I have with this is it feels dirty to me to be making money off somebody else’s site. I’ve had my content stolen by scraper sites and it’s not fun. I think you would need permission from the original site and you couldn’t run advertisements on it.

2 Mr. Cheap

Kyle: For some reason our site keeps trying to classify your comments as spam. Sorry for the delays in posting (we have to fish them out of the spam bin).

I definitely agree if you were posting the site publicly. A lot of our posts get scrapped too. The idea here is more to make a private or semi-private version of a site rather than to steal someone’s content and build another version of it.

There was a recent post on Slashdot about someone ripping off wikipedia (making a duplicate site with their own ads). That’s NOT what I’m advocating here.

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