What the 'buzzword brigade' talks about when they talk about 'community': Blue tile by niznoz on Flickr

What communities actually look like (sometimes): Collaborative Poster 2: Phyllotaxis by JBum on Flickr

or Spiral Universe by Raysto on Flickr

or any other number of combinations.

I hear it all of the time. Hours and hours of thought put into creating some sort of fictional 'community profiles' and/or snapshots of 'who they are and what they like'. I take a look at these assessments and try not to whince openly...especially when it: a. doesn't represent a single person using their service and/or b. the research is based on an individuals assumptions about a certain group of people they know nothing about.

Think about it. If you use Flickr, do you think that you have alot in common with all other Flickr users? Or is the only assumption you can make is that you all get some sort of benefit out of using Flickr...which is different from person to person (and I'm not counting those who have joined but really found no benefit out of using Flickr). Obviously everyone's views on Twitter differ, even those using Twitter. MySpace? My son still thinks it's cool to check his email there, but others observe it heading in a too heavily commercialized direction. I'm a member, but I have never really seen the point. I prefer Facebook, which I use for very different reasons than my friends do.

I always found it odd to hear certain special interest communities being described as one big blob of sameness. "Feminists are all anti-porn" or "Catholics are all against abortion". When we use sweeping statements to describe an ethnic group, we call that racism. When we make generalizations about a gender, we call that sexism.

Community is not a buzzword to describe a monolithic mass of marketing data. Communities are made up of people with endless motivations, hopes, dreams and goals and all have unique personalities. Darnit, even wider customer 'communities' that subscribe to a blog, use an application or otherwise interact with a product or a service take on different personalities. Sure, there are some archetypes that emerge from the way we interact and there are some similarities and crossovers between various customer communities.

But we should never make assumptions about how people will 'behave' or react or what they want. The best hope you have is to be part of your own community, because then you may be able to anticipate what may be positively received, but don't be surprised when a portion of your customers hate the change.

It is my personal goal to completely and utterly confuse my readers this year. I want to make no sense, take away all sense of knowledge and challenge anything you may hold sacred or true. I'm going to stand in front of audiences of people paying perfectly good money to hear me tell them the answers to everything and deliver the EXACT OPPOSITE. And some will hate it, others may even like it.

2007 is a year of chaos for me. Community is about chaos. I know we are predisposed to want to find answers for our questions and classifications for our chaos, but everytime we move in that direction, I see us make bigger mistakes and alienate more and more people.

The other night, we were talking about trends. It seems that every time a term or trend is recognized by a the popular media, that term or trend is on its decline.

Times shift. Things change. Our invididual interests change. The environment around us influences us differently. We have different experiences, different emotional makeups, different aesthetic preferences...

So, why would we think that we could neatly wrap up people into a monolithic idea of their motivations?

Oh yes...that's right....now I remember: certainty.

The sooner we can learn to let go of that, the better.

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