There are a huge number of photography/photographer user groups on the web. These vary from the highly-generic (e.g. holiday pics) to the very specialist (e.g. macro photography of a particular subject matter using a particular lens/camera combination for example). I am a member of many, a subscriber to a few, an occasional contributor to a good number but a regular poster on a very small number.
Those sites requiring a subscription have to offer something very special. For example: tutorials of a high standard in particular; a highly capable community able to offer good quality advice; in-depth reviews that you can trust.
Such sites also have to cope with the draw of groups on facebook and flickr. I find groups on facebook hard to appreciate as the interface and group structure is not well thought out, often slow and difficult for the admins to manage. Flickr does better, particularly on performance, and as it is focused on images it is not surprise that these aspects are easy to manage. However, packages to run sites and forums generally offer much better capabilities.
I am a member of the facebook group Nikon Digital Photographer which now has over 10,000 members and hosts even more photographs. You only ever get to appreciate a small slice of this vast resource not least because of the limitations of facebook. The founder has chosen to set up a sister website to offer a better service but is currently struggling to get a significant portion of the existing community to sign up.
I was intending to sign-up myself to provide support, but given the slow build up, I am not so sure it is a good idea. I see a couple of significant problems with the new site. Firstly, it appears to be subscription only for the substantial parts of the site, and you cannot get to look at them it would appear without signing up. Not even the best established sites, such as http://nikonians.org, try this one. Seconly, there does not appear to be any degree of integration with the existing facebook group (beyond the logical link of them being related in some way). I cannot even login in with my facebook credentials as far as I can tell. Clearly an integration app is required on facebook, but I could not see any information about the development of any such application.
On further digging, it struck me that the new site did not appear to have any clear differentiations from the many other websites directed at such interest groups. No unique selling points. Given that the existing membership on facebook are not paying for their use of facebook through any subscription models, it is hard to see how a significant proportion might be persuaded to sign-up to a subscription model. Of course, only a small portion of the 10,000 membership are truly active anyway.
I have setup a number of forums over the years, each of several thousand active members. The costs of commercial forum/site software (which overtime I came to prefer over the opensource offerings) and high quality hosting were met by donations rather than subscriptions and I found I did not need advertising. I took advertising therefore only in the form of sponsorship of competitions. The key for me was to spread the load of administration and technical management to a wide range of enthusiastic volunteers. I also found that by using commercial software to host the site, it was easy to secure cost effectively ad hoc technical resources to make changes to the site and fix any problems not easily fixed by those doing the day-to-day technical management. (Whilst most of the technical team could have solved most problems, they did not have the time, whereas we found resources spread around the globe living in low-income societies who specialised in this kind of support for relatively low fees easily covered by the donations.)
I wish the founder of the new site, http://nikondp.com, well and hope he succeeds in building the new site. In fact, I have joined at the $10 membership level (I assume this is an annual charge, although it does not say this) – sadly, joining is not properly integrated into the site either, I was able to pay using PayPal but did not return from the payment system in membership mode ready to provide my account details. Odd.