The Fallacy of Community

Won't you be my, well, you know...

Let’s talk about community for a moment, shall we?

Remember when that word actually meant something? Remember when we lived in places that weren’t only called communities, but actually FELT like a community? We talked and interacted to people around us purely because we occupied space near one another. Remember?

Then people started building places online where others came together to commune and talk about shared passions. And they called them “online communities.” It made sense, because people sought these online worlds out and were there to actively participate.

But then something changed. And that word – community – started to become construed. Anybody who threw up a blog and a messageboard starting claiming to have a “community” because they got more than two people visiting their site on a daily basis – even if those people didn’t ever interact with one another.

Listen very carefully: there is a big difference between being a neighbor and being neighborly. I can live next to someone for years in the same community and never talk to them, learn their name or even give a rip about their life or interests. They are my neighbor. We are in the same community. Yet the way I just used those words don’t convey what these social media kids want you to think when you hear them. Just because a bunch of people are in the same place (online or off) doesn’t mean you have a community. Community has context. Community has meaning. Community has deep, meaningful interactions. Now concerning the depth of those interactions and where that line is to when it becomes a community can be debated.

But you get my point.

You can’t create a community – because you can’t build people. You can only construct the buildings. Community isn’t apps and tweets and status updates. Community is shared passion. Community comes from the heart and soul and sweat and blood and love inside people. And they decide and where and when and how it happens. Not you or your website or your program.

13 Comments

  • April 13, 2011

    Amanda

    It’s interesting watching people flock to the latest “tools,” when at the end of the day the greatest tool continues to be the mind/personality of each person. Artifice in tweets to achieve notoriety, bloated bios to be the expert on this or that. The way I see it, it’s the difference between gnawing on some chemical laden energy bar or sitting down to a meal you cooked because damnit, you like cayenne in your polenta and fruit on your steak.

    Thanks for not putting community in a perfect sound bite devoid of any real opinion.

  • April 13, 2011

    Carrie

    Amen Brother!

  • April 13, 2011

    Ryan Knapp

    You can’t create a community – because you can’t build people. You can only construct the buildings. Community isn’t apps and tweets and status updates. Community is shared passion. Community comes from the heart and soul and sweat and blood and love inside people. And they decide and where and when and how it happens. Not you or your website or your program.

    Well said. However, if you put your website and your program in a place where there is no buildings and do a good job of building relationships and getting those people who share passions together, the likelihood of success is better.

  • April 13, 2011

    Trisha Liu

    Thank you for this post! I have been getting confused lately with social media management (outreach via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) being labeled as community management, or vice versa. I love this, “Just because a bunch of people are in the same place (online or off) doesn’t mean you have a community.” Amen! Community is about participation, conversation, interaction, connection.

  • April 13, 2011

    · Are We a Community?

    [...] I wonder what Spike Jones would say? [...]

  • April 13, 2011

    Jason M Blumer, CPA

    We’re building a community online, so I wonder what our Community would say: http://thriveal.com/2011/04/13/are-we-a-community/

  • April 14, 2011

    Glen

    Most online “communities” aren’t communities.

    Facebook, while it has elements of community, isn’t quite one, and Twiter is the antithesis of community. Places like mySpace, which once were communities to an extent, drifted from that as the management turned them into promo sites for entertainers.

    One of the few remaining communities online is one of the oldest, Delphi Forums: http://www.delphiforums.com/ . It is the lone surviver of an era where Compuserve, Genie, AOL and Delphi competed, and while its present owner Mzinga has totally missed its potential as the sole profitable niche community online, it manages to survive with very loyal members.

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  • [...] few days back Spike Jones put together one of those wonderfully provocative blog posts on the topic of Online Communities that would surely make more than one person feel rather [...]

  • April 23, 2011

    Heidi Ahrens

    Great article well said. Great reminder.

    I think that some online ‘communities’ though offer the only option for some people to find each other and have an actual community.

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