Back in the halcyon days of Web 1.0, John Hagel of McKinsey wrote a best-selling book called "Net Worth" that argued that community would be the engine of value creation.
Companies like Yahoo! then dutifully went out and bought companies like eGroups and GeoCities, arguably at overly inflated prices. To a large extent, Hagel's ideas dropped by the wayside.
Today, however, it's clear that Hagel was simply ahead of his time. Communities are creating tremendous value. The difference is the level of engagement. Subscribing to an email list and creating a personal home page are one thing. Writing a daily blog is quite another.
For example, a friend of mine created a fun little flash game. Nothing much happened with it. Yesterday, it was featured on StumbleUpon and got thousands of visitors. We used to call it the Slashdot effect; now there are hundreds of different Slashdot effect generators, ranging from Digg to mini-communities and networks.
Another example is PopSugar. Lisa Sugar started blogging for fun less than a year ago. Today, PopSugar generates 13 million pageviews per month, and includes a gossip blog, a fashion blog, and advice site, and a social network, with 12 more sites on the way, all self-funded and bootstrapped.
The PopSugar team created an incredibly engaged community just based on good content. Admittedly, theirs is a six-sigma (low probability) event--thousands of blogs launch each day, and few will ever attract 13 million pageviews per month--nonetheless, it illustrates both the power of community and the ability to create one with creativity and talent, rather than dollars or big media pull.
Can you think of any communities that engage you? Or how about communities that you wish existed? Examine your passions...you just might find a gold mine.