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Subscriptions might just work

If the dot-bombs succeeded at anything, it was in forcing sites to seriously reconsider their financial model.

MetaFilter, one of the big community sites, has adopted the text-based ad popularized by Google, as discussed by a Certain Pundit.

The independent sites—and, notably, the pop-culture community site Plastic—embraced the donation model, which appeared earlier this year.

This happened even as commercial sites like CNET and Salon began pushing bigger ads into the pages' content. For Salon, it was the first step in moving to a subscription-heavy model, with the bigger ads and interstials mixed into the free site.

Slashdot, grand-pappy to all those post-and-comment–community sites, said it will also adopt the bigger ads. But, like Salon, readers will be able to subscribe to an ad-free version.

Conventional wisdom holds subscriptions won’t work online because there will always be free content available. The Wall Street Journal has 574,000 subscribers only because—the skeptics argue—the site offers unique, valuable information.

But what sites like Slashdot (and even Salon, through its Table Talk forums and The Well) offer is just as valuable: a community offering good discussions, as well as the latest news and memes.

Although creating a community online is hard to do, it’s been proven over-and-over again (Usenet, email lists, and IM) to draw people back.

People who might balk and paying for news, may just pay to ensure their community survives.