David RD Gratton

Beyond Communities of Interest, Communities do not Exist

July 3, 2005

My company has been working with what we have been calling Information Clouds, and I came upon Thomas Vanderwal's body of work.

And thus we have an example of the postulate that "no idea is ever original; there is always someone who has thought and wrote or spoke of it before you."

Anyway, if you are at all interested in structured content, add him to your subscriptions. Actually if you are interested in structured content, you probably already know Thomas, and are wondering how on earth I hadn't until just recently.

His post last week on Local InfoCloud and Community asks the question:

"Does it make sense to keep the name Local InfoCloud, or would Community InfoCloud be more appropriate?"

He defines a Local InfoCloud as:

"information that is protected by a firewall, membership, or by interest."

He defines (as I read it) a Community InfoCloud as a:

"means of grouping and providing social interaction, which also provides organizational understanding (such as vocabulary, common ideas, and cultural understanding). The distinct social implications of information, whether it is by discipline, work, or other community have similar traits that are different from the Global InfoCloud and the Personal InfoCloud and it stands between the two in the middle ground.

Faulty Definitions of Community
The root of the question comes from an article he read which cited Brian Smith's definition of community. (Smith, Brian et al. (2000) “Silver Stringers and Junior Journalists: Active Information Producers,” IBM Systems Journal, Vol. 39, Nos. 3)

Ethnic/political communities: These are communities that may have no proximity, yet have a common political identity, or ethnic background. A variety of web sites have been designed to allow these groups to come together.

Geographic communities: These are communities that have physical bounds. These sites aim to complement the face-to-face interaction that already occurs.

Virtual communities: Virtual communities are groups that come together based on a common interest that the web medium makes possible.

Demographic communities: A number of web-based demographic communities have emerged to serve various constituencies. Web sites that are based upon a demographic community are growing in popularity.

Activity-based communities: These communities are defined by a shared activity such as shopping, making music, or playing games.

Beyond Communities of Interest, Communities do not Exist
I think Thoma's dilemma is due to a faulty definition of community. I propose (Remember: see postulate in first paragraph above) that all communities are communities of interest. The virtual community for the most part does not exist without a common interest. A virtual community is really a modifier of community, and it has two flavours: Open and Closed.

Communities of Interest
Looking at Brian Smith's example above, how does Ethnic/political communities really differ from a music community beyond subject matter? Are activity based communities really different from demographic communities? These are all communities of interest. If I am 70 years old I am not a member of the seniors communities unless I hold common interests with that group. Picasso at age 70, was not a member of the geriatric community. Though a statistician would say he was. I do think Brian's classifications do work as types of Communities of Interest.

Communities of Geography are Arbitrary
Communities of Geography are forced upon us by happenstance. We live somewhere specific and some statisticians says we are part of a neighbourhood, city or country. However, I have nothing in common with my neighbour, except she lives beside me. Sure we have a common interest in the Strata Council, and in finding out who keeps leaving garbage in the foyer, but beyond that we do not converse or interact. It is our common interests regarding issues surrounding our condos that creates dialog and interaction.

Without Common Interest, Communities of Geography do not Exist (for long)
An interesting example: It is a little known fact was that in 1776 there were 14 established colonies in North America not just the 13 which rebelled during the American Revolution. One of the 14 colonies did not share the same interests or aspirations as those of the other 13. It remained loyal to the Crown, and became a haven for loyalists. The holdout colony of Quebec, would become two provinces: Upper and Lower Canada in 1791. The new southern republic, must have believed in geographic communities too, as it would war with its northern neighbour until the early 19th century, convinced that they only need liberate the populace from it's English yoke.

Virtual Community as Modifier
Virtual communities in my mind do not exist as communities unto themselves. It's true that I know individuals only online. It's true that I participate on project with groups of people on-line that I have never met before. But these communities have a common interest without exception. The on-line environment only extends your community of interest, facilitates a community that had no opportunity of existing, or provides the community with a new mode of dialog and interaction.

Whew, this post is too long.... I'll stop. To sum up:

Communities of Interest
- Religion
- Politics
- Demographics
- Activities

Communities of Geography do not exist

Virtual Communities are not communities but modifiers to communities of interest.

For those of you who made it this far, I would enjoy learning about your opinion on the matter.

[UPDATE - July 10, 2007] Seems this blog post has gotten some interest thanks to Om Malik I'm missing most of this post. The blog post must have gotten corrupted during the transfer from moveable type to Drupal earlier this year. I will see if I can find the original post or if I can remember what I wrote 2 years ago.

[UPDATE 2- July 10, 2007] The original post is restored.

Beyond Communities of Interest, Communities do not Exist

A useful and interesting bit of underbrush-clearing, which provoked some further thoughts of my own - see http://phenomenologic.blogspot.com/2005/07/cloud-z.html