Backstep it a bit-What’s a community?

March 9, 2010

Hello again! I guess I didn’t scare you away the first time, so here goes for my second blog post.

Okay, so the few of you that were able to read my post sent me a very interesting topic in the guise of a question-“What is an Online Community?” So this week, I’m backpedaling to Community 101.

According to Wikipedia.org: An online community is a virtual community that exists online whose members enable its existence through taking part in membership rituals (Amy Jo Kim, 2000). An online community can take the form of an information system where anyone can post content, such as a Bulletin board system or one where only a restricted number of people can initiate posts, such as Weblogs. Online communities have also become a supplemental form of communication between people who know each other primarily in real life. Many means are used in social software separately or in combination, including text-based chat rooms and forums that use voice, video text or avatars. Significant socio-technical change may have resulted from the proliferation of such Internet-based social networks.

Pretty wordy, eh? So let’s break this motha up. If you think about words such as communal or communication, you can sum up what a community is. Look at your neighborhood, your car club, your dance class or even your weekend social happy hour group! You will find some semblance of a community-based culture.  Basically, I like to say that a community can be defined as a group of individuals brought together by some like-minded thought, topic, hobby or desire. The individual will identify with the group, and the group will grow, develop and change over time. Members of the community may change, grow or drop out over time if the group’s overlying belief system comes in to conflict with the indvidual’s belief system.

Now, put the word “online” in front of “community”. BINGO! There really isn’t much more to it than that. An online community is a group of individuals brought together by some like-minded thought, topic, hobby or desire in a virtual space. That’s about it. I should also mention that the method of communication is somewhat different than in the “real world”-online communities communicate via some form of written word a la’ Instant Messengers, Email discussion groups, message boards, facebook, etc. However, this too is changing with the advent of Voice Over Internet Protocols, or VOIPs. Think webcams or headsets with microphones.

Some online communities are quite small in size and some are astronomically large in its numbers. For example, a small business of 120 staff may start message board to hear ideas from the employees. Conversely, an online game may boast subscribers in the millions-all of which are members of their community. There is no set number that makes an online community however I would say that the smallest should be at least 3 people. One person alone does not a community make-even if they do suffer multiple personalities!

The more you hang around with Online Community Professionals, you will hear the phrase”healthy community”.  A “healthy community” is in large part due to the hard work and dedication of the members of the community, the organization which hosts the community and the people that manage the community. Members tend to be supportive, vocal and passionate about the space. Businesses will listen to their members, and be nimble and open when making decisions that directly affect the members. The MANAGERS are the folks that facilitate the relationshp between the two.

And so, that’s about it my friends! I hope this was helpful, and if you have questions don’t hesitate to ask. You should send me your ideas of what you think is a good analogy between a real world community and a virtual one. I keep thinking about the show “Cheers” as a good exmple of a real world (well, TV real) community that grew, changed and finally ran its course.  The whole premise of the show was to bring like-minded individuals together to share a common ideal. Are you a member of a community? If so, what is it and why do you consider yourself a member? Do tell!

That’s it for this week-over and out!

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