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Monday, December 11, 2006

Web 2.0 Tools, Networks and Community (Individuals vs. Collective)

Nancy just created a post out of an article and presentation that I had linked to before: Full Circle Online Interaction Blog: Blogs and Community – launching a new paradigm for online community?

This is an interesting piece that made me think about the new landscape created by Web 2.0 tools. Traditional online community mechanisms (email lists, groups) are joined by a wide variety of publishing mechanisms (blogs, social bookmarking, wikis, flickr, etc.) not to mention linking and commenting on other folks content. This forms a big network of people linked first through content and eventually directly (in person or via social networking). Nancy raises the question of the fact that traditional online communities were bounded by the tool and the new big network is not contained within the tool.

In re-reading the article, I jumped pretty quickly to her comment that the three forms of blog-based communities (one blog, boundaried, topic centric) there are many other forms. Her comment:

New tools which allow a person to ‘carry’ their identity across a variety of online platforms and create their own personal networks suggest that our static ideas of blogs, wikis and forums will be outdated by the idea of a personal network and information cloud, that we shape and which is shaped by those we include in our network. This suggests we are redefining community.


Many have written about the definitions of online community (White 2005). The key indicator for us is that community is present when individual and collective identity begins to be expressed; when we care about who said what, not just the what; when relationship is part of the dynamic and links are no longer the only currency of exchange (Packwood 2005).

What's really interesting to me is that I'm finding in a web 2.0 world where I share content via Blogger - I actually have found much more of a direct connection to other individuals. I met Brent Shlenker through his blog and invited him to be on a panel. And I've met many other people through blogging. And, I've found that I get to know them better through their blogs than I ever have through online discussion groups, e.g., TrDev.

And, I don't believe that this connection effect will stop with blogging. I have met other people through LinkedIn and illumio by being on either side of requests. By the way, illumio is a fantastic idea. It's now open publicly and I would encourage you to give it a try. Something like this is definitely in your future.

While I've not personally done much of this, finding other individuals through content also occurs through the use of tools such as (links), 43Things (goals), wikipedia (topics), flickr (images), mySpace (bands), etc. Each of these generate similar stories of meeting other people through the content. In fact, if you think of my online identity as being the collection of blog posts, links, flickr images, 43Things goals, LinkedIn contacts, etc., you have a pretty good idea of me as an individual and that promotes individual connection.

At the same time, I would definitely emphasize that while these provide good mechanisms for meeting other individuals, the "community center" is somewhat non-existant in this world. There is definitely a feeling of loss for those of us who are used to groups with members. Who are the people in my network? In a group, it's clear the membership. In a blog network, it's not at all clear and it's quite fluid.

I've seen several ways to combat this feeling of loss within the network and most of them are based on establishing a list of members or other related bloggers. Blog rolls are probably the most common. Other examples are closed lists, e.g., Web 2.0 Workgroup and Enterprise Irregulars or open lists kept on Wikis. There are a few Yahoo Groups aimed at establishing a community for bloggers.

Another approach that we've taken on the Learning Circuits Blog is to post a question each month that allow a natural list of bloggers to emerge who contribute their answers to the question. This has had an interesting effect of establishing closer ties within the blogger network.

Nancy's article is definitely worth reading and after re-reading it, I've become more convinced that in a time of Know-Who and Know-Where being the most important, these Web 2.0 tools form an incredibly important part of how we'll establish our network in the future.

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