The Web is the crowded home of several million people, so when you put your Web site online, it doesn’t just drop into a vacuum. Instead, it takes center stage in front of an audience that’s always interested, often opinionated, and occasionally irritable.
For your site to really fit in with the rest of the Web, you need to interact with your visitors. The idea of dialogue—back-and-forth communication between peers—is hard-wired into the Internet’s DNA. Heated discussion flows over all sorts of different channels, and includes insightful postings on discussion groups, scathing reviews on Amazon, shout-outs on Web site guestbooks, daily blog entries, email notes, instant messages, chat rooms, and much more. Online discussions never stop—they just billow across the globe like giant clouds of hot air.
In this chapter, you’ll learn to connect with your audience using basic tools like your email inbox, and to incorporate the often-rollicking world of Web-based groups and discussion forums into your site.
The Web sites you’ve created so far are lonely affairs. Visitors can come and look around, but there isn’t any way for them to really participate. If the Web were a one-way medium, like cable television or newspapers, this wouldn’t be a problem. But the Internet is all about community, which means you need to let your visitors react, respond, and (occasionally) harass you.