Mar Ruiz Solanes asked the group for an updated definition of community. Trailing below is the compiled dialogue to date with my own synthesis trailing at the end.

Barbara Steinberg started the conversation by offering that: "community is an act of faith" and went on to support her statement by saying:

"It's probably not a definition you'd give to a corporate person seeking to understand what we do. I'm sure you'd get that glassy-eyed fake look we all have had to put up with. God, I hate smiling back at those people. But as a builder, that's what it is to me.

You make a sale to members. I'm creating this environment. If you put the best of yourselves in it, you'll get something wonderful and unexpected out of it. Then you have faith people will do that because you thought out your environment and social contract well, and you're taking care of them.

Faith is broken many times, and the builder and each member has to be responsible for themselves. It takes a special personality to be able to keep on doing it. The problem I've always come across when talking to finance people is that they need plans, and the serendipity that comes when the faith works and forms a great community can't really be predicted. Or maybe it can."


That response generated additional thoughts the first being from Ed Mitchell

"If people see productive responses to their productive input, their trust in it grows and goodness happens. I would place more emphasis on the members themselves - rather than 'you thought out the environment' - I work more on a 'pull everyone together to co-create the environment' - making it theirs through and through; ownership of the rules/guidelines, moderation processes, etc. can be mutual if they are all discussed together - making the 'community builder's' role more of a structural facilitator than expert - and then getting on with the taking care of them once it's up and running."

An additional definition was offered by Paul Schumann:

"Community: Sufficient depth of commitment to a group, its members and its purpose that both independent creativity and interdependent cooperation are maximized simultaneously."

Rebecca "Becs" Newton responded to the defintion and ongoing discussion with this suggustion:

"I'd take it one step further and suggest that no one person or corporation orchestrates community; rather, online (and offline) community is an organic, natural, process (our antibodies are a community too!) and I believe true communities are self-organising. this isn't to say that they don't naturally end up with leaders and/or leadership, governments, etc. because they do. So in fact, we don't create anything as a single entity, in my opinion. We may get lucky and provide real estate...and recognise that like highway patrolmen, where there's one - there's two."

Mar responded to Becs:

"I am very very happy you wrote this, because it is very very tru, that you can work and work and ths community grows or not, but most of the times, you cannot control its birth easily!"

Nancy then jumped into the discussion and offered that there have been some very interesting comments on Tara Hunt's blog (HorsePigCow) recently about the issue of what is online community and referred specifically to the following posts and the comments that were generated:

What do you mean community isn’t about warm and fuzzy all the time?

Quote from the post: There seems to be a bit of a misconception that ‘community’ means being in some sort of love-in state all of the time. The way some people talk about it, I envision 70’s hippie communes where everybody shares nicely and dances around and nobody disagrees.

Well, those hippie communes didn’t work that way and neither do communities.


Community or Not a Community?

Quote from the post: Sometimes what we’re calling communities are in fact arguments, or conversations, or people who happen to like the same brand of orange juice.

Comments: Chas Grundy suggested: as The Cluetrain Manifesto says, “markets are conversations.” As I see it, “community” is a euphemism for a market.

Comments: Tara responded: right…but by ‘market’, the Cluetrain authors meant more ‘marketplace’ rather than the seller to buyer…meaning that marketplaces are full of conversations…between customers and that is what should be heeded. Community isn’t and won’t ever be a euphemism for market. Community should mean people bonded in some deeper form to work towards something better, safer, more desirable. Sometimes a commercial entity is involved, but I can’t think of a single instance where it is the central force that unites.

Community or Not Community? Part II

Conference Notes: Community and what is REALLY Next (hint: I don’t know)

Nancy went on to offer:

"Some of what strikes me here is our diversity of meaning for the word community, online community and the very weird deja vu I get from the conversations. The tools have changed since the first boom of online community in the 90's, but the issues really haven't. I find that interesting. There is something enduring here."

The final comment in the thread shared some insight gleaned from a diva marketing interview with the founders of blogher and found this quote:

"People often define Web 1.0 as one-way communications vs. Web 2.0 being two-way communications. I take that a step further and say that online community is circular communications. Speak, then listen, then respond. Rinse and repeat. You?ll get smarter, and your community will feel invested and empowered."

There's a generative feedback dialogue loop here.

In capturing the ongoing dialogue Dave Sabol offered the following synthesis of the overall themes that appeared to be emerging:

"There are no guarantees in community building - it is as much an art as it is science - and requires a leap of faith on the part of the facilitator. You don't always get out of it what you put in, but when you do it's more than worth the effort. A community is organic and self-organizing and the most we can hope to do is provide a solid foundation and let the dynamics play out as they will. Throughout history the tools, technologies, and buzzwords have changed but the themes and challenges have endured."