[Doc Searls (l) with Cluetrain co-author David Weinberger. Photo by Shel]
Jeremiah complains this is a slow news week. Between the holidays. It seems to me that you have to be a worse workaholic than I am to lament a week that let's you look up and around a bit. Over on Twitter, he seems to be back in a debate that seems to come up whenever we people centered on social media have a slow news week.
What is a community? Who runs a community? Who cares?
The definition of community really hasn't been much changed since the Internet came in. Since the advent of social media, there are a lot more communities and a great many people belong to more communities than they used to.
But by defintion, they remain the same. Communities are bodies of people loosely joined together by a common interest. Historically, that common interest could be geography, a profession, a religion, a political affiliation or even a hobby like stamp collecting.
The Internet has reduced the physical boundaries of community. You can now have a strong bind with community members you have never met. It is based on shared passion and interest. Communities are like living bodies, in that the health of the body is more important, in the long run, than the continiuation of any one component. If it's your body, you will want to have the wart of cander removed for your health. If it is your physical neighborhood, you will want that burned-out, graffiti-tagged building taken down.
Yes, companies can build communities. Governments can do it as well. The results are often bad. Ford Motors built company towns in the middle of the last century. They owned everything, the streets, the homes, the schools, the churches, even the cars people could buy. Ford decided if you could stay or be evicted and in the end most people decided the company town was a bad place to live.
Some companies still want to build online communities, with walls and gates. They want to own the community residents, and like the Ford Factory towns, this is generally a bad thing. People need to own their own communities. When they have bad leaders, or too much crime, or poor education, or poor enforcement bodies, they tend to find a way to leave and go elsewhere to enjoy greater freedom.
On Jeremiah's Twitter conversation, someone noted that Facebook's customers are not the millions of users, but the marketer who have come in, who will support FaceBook in its desire to have a decent return on investment. This may sound like an obvious truth. Some people think users have been spoiled by free services and content and they just have to accept that it's no longer like that.
I disagree. When the community rules become unjust (my theme for today), community members will just up and leave. The will go somewhere else where they have greater freedom. Facebook is just a piece of virtually geography, and people will have very little trouble moving to another location, where they can share passion and information with people who will join them there.
As Jeremiah well knows, the power of a community is ultimately in the hands of te community members. The real leaders of a community will only remain leaders if they remain generous to the community itself. This is a concept that is very difficult for marketers to grasp. They need to go study what Doc Searls has to say about an Intention Economy, then they need to figure out how to provide it.
If not, every time they show up in numbers, the members of a community will just leave.
It's funny. I feel like I've written all this before. But then again, it's a slow news week.