Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Deconstructing terms: online community

There are terms that can mean everything and nothing at the same time; they are meaningless but, repetead over and over again by mass media, they look like they have a meaning.
I was seeing a blog called Web Strategy (obviously a blog about marketing of the web) and the author of the blog was thinking about a definiton of "online community".
In one post he wrote:

I’m both passionate about communities (having created the community advocate group in Facebook, as well as held the community manager role at HDS) and am now doing research on this topic. I’m on a quest to find an accurate, reliable, and timeless definition of the term “online community”.

I vetted this definition with my Twitter network, received nearly 50 responses this morning. I’ve boiled down a definition to the following:

An online community is: Where a group of people with similar goals or interests connect and exchange information using web tools.
I couldn't resist sending my comment:

"I think that “online community” or “virtual community” are nonsense.
In the past a community was a group of people who shared the same land and the same values.
Now it’s cool to use the word “community” but, for example, i like radio (i’m in Europe) and other 2 persons (1 in the US and 1 in Japan) like radio and we talk about it on the net; we don’t know anything else about ourselves. Are we part of the same community? Sorry, we aren’t.
I would say “online network” without any strong ties instead of community.
When i hear “online communities” i think about “imagined communities” of Benedict Anderson."

I do understand that marketing people (like the who blogs there) want to use meaningless expression such as "online community" or "virtual community": they want to make more money.
Imagine 2 persons who want to sell a site:
- one sells a site with 1000 users
- one sells a site with an online community of 1000 persons
which one sounds cooler?
Websites tell us: "register here and join our community!" How can i join a community when i've never seen any member and i have no idea of their values of this so-called community???
Do they want to use those expressions? Fine, but their choice isn't going to change the reality: either a community is real or it's not a community.

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