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Business Research > 5: Online Communities

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5A: Types of Resources

Online communities are discussion groups that gather around a particular topic. They take many forms: mailing lists, newsgroups, Web forums, chat, and blogs. They may be moderated or un-moderated; local or worldwide; include amateurs, enthusiasts, professionals or just curious people; and cover virtually any topic, from splicing genes to home schooling.

These groups are rich sources for current information and networking. Blogs and Web forums generally publish updates on hot topics before printed or online newspapers. Further, online communities may contain experts who are able to lend guidance or insight on hard-to-research topics. Many reputable magazines are beginning to sponsor blogs written by resident experts. Browse your favorite online topical magazine to see if there is a sponsored blog documenting current events and hot topics.

While online communities can be a valuable source of information, use caution. Often, the credentials of bloggers or commentators is unknown, making the information that they provide somewhat suspect. Therefore, online communities are best used once you have established yourself as a member and have listened to the 'conversation' over time. Online communities are not reliable sources for quick data, involved research, or for getting started on a topic.

Blogs can be run for free and with relative ease, so almost anyone can have a blog. Some people use them as a soapbox for personal, religious, political, or social viewpoints. Others sponsor blogs in a professional capacity and strive to represent a variety of issues and points of view. Most blog sites are heavily influenced by the values of the author. Be sure to read blogs carefully in order to identify bias in the information you are gathering.

5B: Examples

Motley Fool Discussion Boards

The Motley Fool Web forum is designed to help readers obtain financial information and discuss ways to make investment and personal financial decisions. This information is sometimes provided by their staff and sometimes by other contributors, many of whom are essentially anonymous.

VentureBeat

VentureBeat's goal is "to provide insider news and data about the entrepreneurial and venture community that is useful to decision makers." The site is primarily written by author Matt Marshall. Marshall has a great deal of authority on the subject of venture capital. He has extensive experience in the field, as well as advanced degrees in Government and German and European Studies from Georgetown University.

misc.taxes

This site is a newsgroup that discusses tax law and advice. Browse the topics to find information related to your research, or post a question for discussion.

5C: How to Find More

CataList

A searchable directory listing of over 50,000 public listservs (mailing lists).

Google Blog Search

Find blogs and blog posts on your favorite topic.

Technorati

Technorati is a near real time search engine focused primarily on blogs, but it also indexes many RSS feeds. Technorati currently tracks 50.5 million blogs.

Activity

Use Technorati to find a blog post discussing bitcoins. Select Click to refind this search above results and experiement with refining authority to see how the blogs with different authority differ.

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