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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Impact of a World of Loosely Connected Individual Relationships?

After posting yesterday eLearning Technology: Web 2.0 Tools, Networks and Community (Individuals vs. Collective) - where I discussed how my use of Web 2.0 tools were forming a network of individual relationships, today I ran across a post by Dave Pollard - Social Networking in Business: An Update where he lists out a series of tools that create links between people much as I was discussing. As I stated yesterday, what's interesting about these links is that there is no community associated with them as there generally has been in the past for me. Thus, I'm finding myself in a world of:
Loosely Connected Individual Relationships

This raises all sorts of questions for me:
  • Should I do something more with these relationships or is the loose connection enough?

    For example, I've met 20+ other bloggers through writing on common topics. A few I've individually communicated with outside of the blogosphere. A couple I've asked to be on panels or met at conferences. Maybe this is enough, but I feel that if I was looking to find out which other bloggers (or other people who I am loosely connected with) will be going to a conference I'm going to be attending, I have no easy way to reach out. As I said yesterday, I don't have a list. I also believe that relationships are built by a series of interactions. Should I be looking to engage with other people in some way beyond the blog? If so, what, how, why? Or maybe a loose connection is fine? Maybe that's the new world? Maybe I need to get used to it?
  • Do "communities" exist within these loosely connected individuals or do you need something more to form a community?
  • What should communities such as TrDev (a discussion group) or the eLearningGuild or ASTD do with/about these loose connections that span in, across, through their communities?
If you have thoughts on this, I would love to hear from you either through comments or through a blog posting.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tony
In the real world, there are communities in name only -- that lack a sense of community. There are the formalities of membership, meeting places and attendance, but no feeling of belonging, sharing and supporting each other. Online communities are the reverse in my experience – a sense of community without the formalities. Getting to know bloggers through their archives and RSS feeds seems much more fascinating than cagey conversations in person. I also get a strong sense of community from other bloggers who want the same things, promote the same changes and nurture each other’s contributions. There’s much missing in online gatherings: eye contact, laughter, hugs and body language. But the rapport is more stimulating, the communication is more articulate, and the embedded links are more supportive of my own pursuits.There's nothing more for you to do to reap those benefits. It's only if you want more than that --where giving more will get you more.

You have also raised the issue of losing identity amidst so much fluidity and scattered tools for social networking. There are two contradictory sides to this. (1) Losing identity can be a bad thing. Cyberspace is no place to get grounded. People who get addicted to chat rooms, listservs, IM or multiplayer games find their instincts mislead them. Regaining identity occurs in physicality with a significant relationship, project or other commitment. (2) Losing identity can be a good thing. Family systems and workplaces typically lock us into fixed roles, stereotyped personas and limited self concepts. Losing this kind of identity may begin as a catharsis and evolve into finding other facets of oneself, exploring new personas and expressing oneself in whole new ways. This loss of identity becomes a Second Life (pun instended) that is deeply fulfilling and empowering. Only you know which approach to the issue fits you better. I hope this is helpful.

Karyn Romeis said...

I find Tom's comments very insightful, here.

Of course, there is a huge difference between belonging to a group and having friends. We are relational beings, and you can belong to as many clubs, groups and cliques as you like, but without the relational element, these will not sustain you in any meaningful way.

So if we compare the formation and development of relationships with the pursuit of an exchange of ideas, the dynamics are going to be different. In order for there to be a relationship, there must be some sort of connection that provides you with the motivation to put in the effort. There must be personal investment. In your daily life, you meet many people - why do some become friends and others not? I guess we just "click" with some people. And it isn't always immediate - relationships are organic things. We can nurture and invest in them and some will grow while others don't.

I reckon we should approach this in much the same way as we do relationships in the offline world - when you have identified people you would like to get to know better:
* invite them to join you at events (virtual or otherwise) that you're attending
* communicate with them privately during the event (over and above the public domain conversations you have with the wider community)
* contact them (as individuals, not just as part of a distribution list) even when you're not at an event
* meet in person for coffee or to pursue some other common interest if the oppportunity presents itself (if Vicki Davis ever comes to the UK, or if I ever venture out to Georgia, I hope to be able to just exactly this)
* etc.

Christopher D. Sessums said...

Tony,

As usual, you ask several intriguing questions.

When you say "should I do something more..." it brings to mind the notion of a shared purpose or a goal that often connects people within different communities. In other words, if there is no reason or purpose to following up with others, then perhaps loose connections are enough.

Ulises Mejias has written about the power of social software to build relationships beyond the blog, so to speak. That is part of the power social software offers. But the softare itself acts more as a medium; it needs somebody or some persons to steer the conversations, invite people to meet up, etc.

I think, based on my reading of Lave and Wenger, that you can have communities based on loose connections and you can also have communities that have a particular focus or practice associated with it. It depends on how you choose to define your community.

Another critical aspect of communities is how people negotiate the rules or boundaries of the community. Most of the successful online communities that I've read about are made up of self-selected users. That is, participants choose to participate. They also have a stake in creating/negotiating the rules that the community operates within.

I like your example of eLearningGuild and ASTD. I am reminded of the SIGs or special interest groups within several of the large organizations that I participate in. The SIG is comprised of people who are interested in a similar topic (i.e., a community of interest). If I want to meet up with someone within the SIG or want to organize a group event, the SIG community functions well as a means to interact, get feedback, make decisions, etc.

The blogosphere is an interesting animal to the say the least. How many of us are writing and thinking similar things yet have no idea that the other exists? Technorati has tried to address this, but if you're not registered or tagging your posts with similar keywords, there's no way of knowing the other is out there.

I like the notion of a community of loose connections. I think the edublogosphere is a prime example of this. The key in communicating and interacting within this network is making sure connectors get the message and pass it along, people like Stephen Downes, Will Richardson, David Warlick, Josie Fraser, etc., that is, the A-listers who serve as liasons to the long tail.

Networks are a funny thing, no? The Intarweb will always be a wild and wonderful place that will require a certain level of acquiescence and acceptance to its limitations. Forming communities in this arena requires time, focus, and buy-in from a number of people that, at some level, seems quite possible depending on your purpose.

Sorry for rambling. I also enjoyed reading Tom and Kayrn's response. It seems we're all on a similar wavelength.

Tony Karrer said...

These are very interesting comments. The suggestions so far are quite interesting.

One thing that I'm honestly not sure of is why I feel there should be a deeper connection than what I currently get online. For example, with each of you who commented, I feel I have a connection because of our exchange of ideas through blogs and comments (beyond just this blog). I agree completely with Tom about how great this works.

At the same time, I still feel a disconnect because none of us have "cemented" the relationship. We've informally agreed to discuss things (as we are now), but is that where it ends. If I look at Karyn's list (great list by the way Karyn), should I reach out and contact you for these types of things? For example, I'm going to ASTD TK2007, the eLearningGuild in Boston and ASTD National next year. It would be great to meet up with each of you.

What's the protocol? Do I send a message to my blog? That doesn't feel right. Whoops I have to run, but hopefully this question makes sense and you have further thoughts.

Christopher said...

Hmmm... is now a good time to bring up the illusory nature of the universe? ;)

I always enjoy meeting up but I can't say whether or not I can swing a trip to Boston anytime soon (unless of course someone wants to pay the way). Karyn's in England so I'm not sure she is able to make it over anytime soon (however, she may have other plans).

It does appear that you are somewhat troubled by the looseness of cyber-relationships. Like Tom, I find my cyberfriends can be psychologically as close as my closest meatspace friends. Sometimes even closer because we are not distracted by moving lips, the telephone, and a host of other natural idiosyncracies.

While I admit, I'm a sucker for knowing people face to face, I'm not so off put by cyberrelations.

I think there are no former protocols for next steps. I recommend doing what feels best.

Does Skyping make you feel anymore connected?