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Successful Companies Encourage Community

When companies encourage communities to form around their product or service, amazing things can happen. Blogger (blogger.com) is a web-based application that enables people to easily update their website. When the service slowed down in early 2001, the company asked its users to help. They set up a donation drive to help raise the $6,000 they needed for a new server to speed up the service. In a week, they earned over $10,000.

Of course, when companies discourage community, amazing things happen, too. Amazingly bad things.

I can think of no company that inspires more rage than Pacific Bell, my local phone behemoth. Almost all of my friends have a horror story about them, and every story is the same. It begins with "I'm going to get DSL" and ends with "I loathe Pacific Bell." Usually, the cycle takes about three months, only most of which is spent on hold, waiting to ask them why it's not working, being forced to listen to some kind of evil easy listening.

Pacific Bell isn't alone—big companies making big promises and not following through is the unfortunate norm in the high speed Internet access business. And it's safe to say that none of these companies are encouraging their customers to talk with each other, either.

Fortunately, we have the web. One look through a website like DSL Reports (dslreports.com) tells the sad tale. The site is full of horror stories (and even the occasional endorsement) of DSL companies. There's information on every provider in every city, and enough tales of woe to make anyone consider sticking with their trusty 56k.

The lesson here is that if you discourage your customers from forming communities, it won't stop them. They'll just find someplace else to meet. And, chances are, you won't like what they have to say when they do.

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