Creating Communities - Online and Offline


Ashish says that you "enable communities" and I think you "create" them. And since it’s a serious challenge to my understanding of social behavior, let me defend my position.

By the very definition,
a community is a group of individuals who are brought together by force or they come together because they share a common interest.

Classic examples are community of slaves working on erecting pyramids and users flocking because they are interested in start-ups in India.

Keywords in the definition are group, individuals and together. A group that is useful to the individual and together the group and the individual make it worth sticking to.

When I say that you create communities, it implies that you bring all these people together (by force, by coercion, by advertising, by showing them advantages of being a member, by hook, by rewarding participatory behavior or by showing that everyone but you is a member, or any of million other ways). Once there is a group, you share ideas and vision on what could become of this group if everyone participates. And when they start participating and everyone is in sync with the collective vision, the group become a community.

For a community to thrive, there needs to be a connecting thread – a reason for members to believe in. A selling proposition. An answer to “Why this community” question. This reason can again be provided by force (if you don’t work, you will be killed) or by prestige associated by just being a member (I am member of – are you? I have access to GMail – do you have it? Etc.).

Second part is that the community as a whole should be useful for the members. No one would want to just give and not take anything in return. People don’t join communities. People join groups hoping that the group would be useful to them. Moment a group becomes useful for individuals, or that user, the group transforms from a group to a community.

When you are starting a community, you HAVE to bring together people. You will have to hand pick people who are committed to this binding thread with or without the usefulness of the community. These are the people whose actions would make the community useful for subsequent members. In case of pluggdin, for example, Ashish would have started writing about start-ups in India. He would have posted the link at relevant places, would have sent emails to friends and family who are interested in start-ups and slowly and gradually people starting coming in. He thus created a community. One member at a time.

On the other hand when you talk about enabling a community, you assume people already know why they are there. You assume that they

  1. know what is common between all of them.

  2. know why are they not a directionless herd.

  3. know what is purpose of their group.

  4. can see a larger picture.

  5. know how is group useful.

This all might happen in an ideal world and I refuse to agree that any heterogeneous or even homogeneous group of people can answer all the above-mentioned questions. And if you are just enabling the community without holding their hand, telling them what to do and what actions to take. In my humble opinion, they will be as lost as kids in the topless bar :D.

And with this your-honor, I rest my case.

Saurabh Garg

P.S.: And I agree that your group/community should be empowered enough to recommend and make changes. They should be empowered to remove things that they don’t like. They should be empowered to freely add on to the community. They should be allowed to explore. They should be given the tools to be themselves and create new things for the community. :D

Image Credits: Sifah via Flickr.

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