What is Community? – Followup

I was just chatting with Jennifer Rice about my recent “What is Community?” post. We were chatting on Skype this morning about my original post, and she had some great challenges. I’ve taken a few minutes to address them below, but also to add some thoughts that came out of Jennifer’s Corante post about all this.

Thanks for the prodding, Jen!

Take epinions.com. would you call that a community?
Yes. And no. I think you have to make a distinction between “community activities” and “community”. Community happens when all parts of the community definition are fulfilled. When only parts of the definition are fulfilled, community activities happen. Epinions, Amazon, and ThinkGeek all do these very well, but since they’re missing the “form relationships” piece of the community definition, I wouldn’t call them communities.

If the only person who’s consistent is the moderator, and everyone comes and goes… then they’re not building relationships with each other, just with the moderator…
First off, I would like to say that there certainly are different types of communities. Not everything that’s can fall under the definition of “community” is necessarily a strong, active, long term community. The key to this challenge is what it means to when you talk about “everyone coming and going”. If that means that people are just stopping by to check out the news of the day, posted by the moderator, and they don’t leave their impression on the site (in the form of comments, posts, whatever), then no, there’s not a community forming.

But if people are able to leave their impression on the site, then that’s something entirely different.

Are their instances that seem to look like a community, but it’s not, according to your definition?
Yeah, simple – when people talk about the “Apple Community”, for instance. One of the reasons, IMO, that “community” is so hard for us Internet marketing types to define is because so many definitions of the word exist.
A community can be a description of property between a married couple, a description of a certain physical/geographical footprint, an Internet virtual meeting space, or (in your “Apple Community” example), a description of a group of people with a shared interest. I don’t think that everyone who has bought an iPod is a member of the “Apple Community”. Perhaps you can say they are members of the Apple Experience, but certainly not a community. Once they head over to iPodLounge.com and start chatting on a regular basis, they’re part of an Apple community. When you show up to your second (not your first) Apple Users Group meeting, then you’re part of a community.
Just buying a new G5 doesn’t include membership into the Apple Community.

What about a blogs?
To me, a blog isn’t a community in an of itself. Once you start adding comments (not so much trackback) functionality, you have all the tools needed for community. Once users start posting comments, the seeds of community has been planted. But once those users start to form relationships (knowing basic positions/opinions about politics on a political blog, for instance), and after enough time has gone by, that is when community, according to my definition actually exists.

Why can’t a community spring up and dissolve in a day? can’t it be someplace where people connect with other like-minded people?
As Christopher Carfi mentioned in his comment on the Corante post:
“I think the “relationships over time” aspect is *critical* to the idea of community. Without the intent to continue to contribute over time, we’re just talking about transactions…a series of “one-day stands,” if you will.”

Steve S also pointed out the difference between traditional community and online community – lurkers. Lurkers, the people who hang out on the periphery of online community, reading but rarely, if ever posting. Are they part of the community, if they lurk for a long term period? Not in my mind. They’re certainly an important component of online community, especially when talking about the marketing potential of working with communities. But using my definition, they’re not actually part of the community, no.

But hey, those are just my thoughts… what are yours?


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