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« Mind the Gap: Turning Vision into Reality | Main | Red's - A Community Built Business »

July 10, 2008


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Rachel Happe

Great additions to the conversation - Tim great insight and that jives with what I'm seeing - what people say/think/need is often confused...sometimes just by language but often by the concepts.

On the social media front - I do see social media as engaging and 'pulling' in the audience but I see that as just having a conversation around content which in my mind is different than creating a community of shared interest/goals/priorities.

This seems to have hit a nerve of sorts so keep the conversation coming (this blog is just a conversation in my mind...and while I know a lot of people who contribute I still control the topic of conversation centrally...hopefully valuable but not a community!)

Thanks for all the excellent comments!


Great explanation, which will make sense to a lot of people. It seems that the most powerful communities are the ones that deeply affect people’s lives e.g. the first geographical communities or neighbourhoods right through to ones that help people in their job e.g. user groups. Enterprises that can bring something of real value to the communities that affect people’s lives, rather than creating them as selling tools, are the ones that will be successful.

Gil Yehuda

Agreed. Very good distinction. Let me add that a community must have some sense of identity. In the corporate world we use team and divisional names to create a sense of belonging. Outside of work, we have looser structures, but still have identity handles, be it via ethnicity, hobby, geography, shared experience (e.g. active alumni members). This gives me a sense of belonging to an identifiable group, which allows me to behave as a member, not a visitor. (This behavior marks the distinction between observer and participant in a community.)

An essential step in creating a community is giving the members a sense of membership identity (in the old days, you'd get a card or a pin -- now you get a picture for your blog). And to your point -- social media does not necessarily give a sense of membership to the members (i.e. watching YouTube does not make you a member of the community of NumaNuma fans).

Justin Kownacki

Great point. Don't confuse the ability to communicate with the act of caring about / being interested in those doing the communicating. Laws are not a government, and tools are not a movement.

francine hardaway

The best example of community through social media tools I know is Twitter, which formed a spontaneous community when it first began.

Pete Bond

I'm all for communities enabled through web based tools but I think it is a mistake, which many make, to refer to a list of members, who could be in their 1000s, as a community. A community is a very special phenomenon and Rachel has given us some great insights into what one ought to look like. In particular I agree with the emphasis on the function of conversation in community building. Web 2.0/enterprise 2.0 software services help to intensify and extend networks of conversation.To Rachel's characteristics I would add at least a couple more, i) the idea of obligation and ii) something referred to as Dunbar's Number . Dunbar's Number is 150 and refers to the maximum of people who can form a human community. There is a similar idea, but a larger number, coming from social network theorist Peter D. Killworth. It's well worth querying wikipedia for more info on the work of Robin Dunbar and community.

In a real human community (less than 150), every member feels an obligation to all the others for maintaining group coherence. We will have obligation in mind when we are negotiating outcomes with others. Obligation is the unspoken need to strike a balance between personal desire and the requirements of other collaborators.Being thus obliged increases the chance of survival, or the ability to maintain group coherence/identity against the pressures of the wider natural-cultural space in which it (essentially a CoP) operates. One’s ability to do this is related to a cognitive capacity to create, and then apply, a variety of strategies by which to influence the behaviour of others and achieve successful coordinated actions (collaboration). It is tempting to conclude that this is what Daniel Goleman called ‘emotional intelligence’.

There is a dilemma here, which is what you call a list of, say, 3000 people, who have all signed on to a particular site, if its not a community?

Niraj Ranjan Rout

Hi Rachel,
Makes sense.
I would like to add to it by saying communities on social networks can be expanded to have newer modes of interactions and communication using applications.

What I mean to say is, a community on a social network can go beyond a forum. Using the independence social applications platforms like the Facebook platform and the OpenSocial platform offer, its possible to design communities where people can interact in new ways.

We are a company that builds social applications, and we have done applications where we built forums which have enhanced functionality like updates, upload of documents, and wyswig editors.



One thing I am not totally clear on is how you are saying communities cannot be larger than 150. I totally agree with you, but consider MySpace. It was a community "built" for thousands and now millions. Though those millions are not all one community, there are pockets of communities, threaded together by common interests, or real life friends. I think companies can profit from building communities, for say, and large association, and allow sub-pockets to organically grow. Yes, as Rachel says, this takes investement of time and resources, but I don't think communities online are totally unreasonable, especially in an association or nonprofit where one larger theme links many special interest groups (take, for example).


Nice post Rachel. Good idea to clearly distinguish community from social media.
I don't agree with Pete Bond's comment that 'a real community' has 'less than 150' members. I think you're confusing 'personal social networks' with 'communities'. Research has been done saying people have a social network of about 100-150 people in it. These are people they know very well to pretty well. And you can tell something about all the members of your network. 'Communities' can be much larger. I can have 'a shared concern' with a much larger number of people than are in my social network. To be in a community does not imply I have to know all the people in that community. (This relates to Chelsea's comment.)

Beth Kanter

Wow, excellent post - this is exactly the issue I've been noodling with over the past week getting a module on online community ready. Thank you.
I'm off to radically rethink what I've put together ... any thoughts?

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