Community and social computing

The idea of community around social computing is somewhat contentious. The Free Dictionary defines community as this:

a. A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government.
b. The district or locality in which such a group lives.
a. A group of people having common interests: the scientific community; the international business community.
b. A group viewed as forming a distinct segment of society: the gay community; the community of color.
a. Similarity or identity: a community of interests.
b. Sharing, participation, and fellowship.

If you look for text books on community, you general end up in ethnography looking at communities in Borneo or the middle of Africa. The remote form of communities that computers engender are odd in that much of that which makes us human is hidden by the ether. That which holds us together cannot be easily defined.

The idea gets even more complex when you look at online communities in the commercial sphere. How much does a customer base exhibit a unique set of traits that can set them apart as a community? How strong are the links?

I’d agree with Cloe Stromberg from Forrester who suggests:

"Marketers invariably want to build branded social networking sites, expecting that a bunch of users will materialize and start emoting about their products. The thing is: not all of the networks you’re associated with online are brand-advocate communities. For example, big companies like Eli Lilly and Wal-Mart have to contend with activist networks using wikis to "tell the whole truth" about their products or using blogs to shape the dialogue about the way they do business. Other companies may find they’re connected with networks of people who use their products in odd ways they wouldn’t want the rest of the world to know about (no examples here)."

Although I would suggest that there are areas where successful networks can be more inert. In the software world, it’s true that given a platform, users will talk – exchanging ideas, examples, frustrations and desires.

As a final point – what happens to an individual when they can fit into a large number of  (social computing) communities? Will there be a fracture of Id; a schizophrenia induced by the demands of too many networks? Or will we trim down – meaning only a handful of networks will survive?


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