We have been having conversations around our office for the past few weeks around the challenge of developing online communities. This is going to be an ongoing project for our team, so it’s something we really need to kick around. This will be the first of many posts on this topic, I’m sure…
A key distinction for us to consider up front — especially as we try to define our expectations — is the distinction between an Online Community and a Social Network.
One way I like to look at the question is to examine the primary organizational item — the atomic bedrock of each.
- In an online community, the organizing principle is the idea. Typically, these communities exist in online tools like discussion forums and areas. Today, they might be standalone sites or be a part of a social network site. Participants in the community share ideas and engage with each other usually with very little initial connection to the person on the other end of the conversation. They have met in a designated space for talk about a subject, and may become friends based on a shared interest in the subject, but at first their engagement with each other is in the dialog surrounding the idea.
- In a social network, on the other hand, the user is the organizing principal. Or, another way to look at that is the idea that the relationship between two users is the organizing principal. Relationships are formed based on pre-existing relationships, or through introductions made through the social network, but those relationships are formed without being tied (necessarily) to a specific idea, topic, or struggle.
Because of the nature of these online spaces, we can see one more very clear difference between the two:
- In an online community, two users visiting the site at the exact same moment should see the exact same content (the same posts, responses, comments, etc).
- In a social network, users have completely different relationship maps, so each user’s experience on the site is entirely different, based on those relationships.
So, for our purposes, we need to understand with some clarity that we want to create a community — an online space that is invested in ideas, passions, and struggles related to being a member of the Shocker community. That may be a place for adding to each member’s social network, and that community may exist within social networking tools or as a standalone community, but our primary efforts should be focused on creating one or more of these communities.