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March 17, 2005

What is a community?

I have been struggling with this concept for quite awhile. More specifically, as it pertains to 'virtual' communities. I am a technical person, as such I have little experience with matters involving anthropology or social science. Clearly, the idea of bridging a gap between people of similar or dissimilar backgrounds is quite intriguing. In fact, I would venture to guess that this is very perplexing for even the most skilled social scientist.

Well before the internet exploded into what would later be called the wide world web, people were attempting to share ideas and thoughts via computers. The crux of this virtual dialogue was research and technology exchange. One could compare this activity to the local open air produce market. Lots of conversation, unbridled bartering and exchange. In the late 90's, websites began to populate the virtual landscape. Everyone had a story to tell and content to share. Unfortunately, during this embryonic state, much of the 'data' was of the push variety. In other words, there was static content which did not easily lend itself to interactive exchange with the author of the data. Additionally, as these websites began to proliferate exponentially, it became increasingly difficult locate the data to help connect the people who wanted desperately to share critical ideas and concepts.

Fast forward to the weblog or blog, which agruably marked the end of static content on the web.
Some believe that blogs will reshape the way information is shared amongst people who are connected by computers. Pure and simple, dynamic and compelling content that is above all timely. For instance, in the wake of the horrific Tsunami, that devastated South East Asia, the mainstream media attempted to capture the human drama associated with this natural disaster. The major networks fought over repetitive loops of recycled video footage that was sparce at best. How many times can you watch the same beachline over and over again?

Meanwhile, the same drama unfolded on millions of computer screens, via compressed video and hundreds of photos. Many of the tourists, who had access to the camcorder and computer shared their stories within a few hours of the disaster.

In my mind, one major benefit of the blogoshphere was to eradicate the idea that humans indiscriminately consume mainstream media and share a monolithic thought.
Additionally, a by-product of this unbridled dialogue would be a reduction of the degrees of separation amongst people.

Update: Cool article which describes the huge blogging growth surge, State of the Blogosphere.

It is truly a struggle to deliver relevant, compelling content to create the utopian community. I have built and designed community centered websites that give its users the ability to join threaded discussions and share ideas, but I have found that these tools do not always guarantee traffic or information exchange among the virtual community.

I have found this true with my own blog. Traffic has significantly subsided since I've been overwhelmed with grad school and other committments. Contrastly, traffic was at its peek when I shared travel experiences, conflict or some other relevant content. Technical or otherwise ;)

Below is a very insightful article that describes the dilemna that surrounds developing a functioning community.

Next time I'll provide more specific examples of how mainstream media is being forced to rethink its content distribution strategies. Stay tuned.

Community Guy

Posted by AG at March 17, 2005 12:58 AM