Riffing on David's most excellent statement [he's stealthy] as well as Warren's excellent story about his Quake 2 online community experience, I started thinking about, well, what would I identify as my community(ies)?
This isn't the first time I've stopped and thought about this, either. I make it a point of not being a big blow-hard buzzword person, so when someone asks me for clarification on what we do, I just talk about some of the actual communities that we are involved in and how they have really taught me a great deal about the world.
Like BarCamp, for instance. It's kind of an odd 'community', but I'd say one nonetheless. We interact and operate online and offline and, though many of us interact daily, visit one another, call one another friends, some of the BarCamp groups are more local in their interactions and are not really part of my community experience. We've been to BarCamps all over the world and some people actually know who we are and approach us and others the locals wonder who we are and where we came from and others nobody even notices we are there. It all depends on how tight the local community is and how much they've interacted with the international community. And, these are communities. We are all working towards common goals: the idea of building blocks for independents...one being a free public space for us to network, present and exchange ideas in.
I also sparked a little community of rogue marketers and entrepreneurs I called Pinko Marketing last year around this time. I'm terribly ashamed of the lack of updates on the wiki, which I had to lock up because of evil spammers, but the Google Group isn't too old in content (we've moved much of the conversation over to Tangler, which is still not public unfortunately, but it was voted on) and there is a very active French branch of Pinko that continues to amaze me in its enthusiasm and uptake. A company has even been formed in Paris to spread the word. It continues to be about 250-300 people strong. And, once again, we all work towards a common goal: the idea that marketing has to change. The idea of pinko is that the marketer becomes a customer evangelist.
Of course there is coworking as well. We've taken that up with our own time and money as well as efforts and rented a space, furnished it and offered it as a public space in San Francisco. Where it becomes a community is when many other people in other cities (as well as more in this city) join the effort to do the same or champion similar efforts to create free or inexpensive public spaces for people to gather and exchange ideas.
Additionally, both Chris and I spend time on projects like OpenID and Microformats, we are passionate about Open Source projects like Firefox and Chris has done a bunch of work with Drupal in the past (but not so much these days...we moved towards being Wordpress champions). We tangentially support Creative Commons by licensing all of our materials under CC as well as go to their salons, meetups, events and have offered our time and ideas to their campaigns. We also feel a strong allegience towards the EFF, although we haven't been as involved as we like, and I am a huge fan of, but not community member of a project called the Intelligrid, although I keep saying that I want to volunteer some time towards it. I'm just starting to put together a small group of women entrepreneurs in the technology space that may, someday, become a community that supports one another.
I guess I'm a Flickr community member because I know many of the people who work there and I defend them passionately, but the only people who I'm really interactive with are those who are my friends all over the place. I used to go to meetups, but I realized that I'm not as passionate about photography as many of the people that were there, so I felt out of place and awkward (a good sign that I wasn't amongst my 'peeps'). I heart Twitter and Pandora and many other apps, but I wouldn't say they represented my 'community'. I am involved in many discussions at Maya's Mom, but I'm not a full-fledged member of the mommy community there. I mean, I think I may be if I had a young child, but having a teenager leaves me feeling like a bit of an oustider, and I don't feel tied to anyone under a higher purpose.
I suppose that's the differentiator for me...the higher purpose.
BarCamp, Coworking, OpenID, Microformats, Pinko Marketing, Open Source, etc...there is a definite higher purpose underlying each of those communities and it aligns nicely with my personal goals. There are, of course, local communities that are united geographically, but even then, coming together and interacting not only serves as a social means, but also a willingness to make their community warmer, safer and generally nicer. Local merchants who care about the well-being of their local communities (sometimes building parks and sponsoring fairs, or even just providing safe, fair and friendly service to the neighbourhood) are rewarded justly. Many city neighbourhoods lack this type of community...The Haight had all sorts of community fairs and meetings and papers and happenings, but the area I now live in seems to lack any community association. I was raised in a small town where I couldn't get away with anything because everyone knew me and my parents. Now, I worry that my son can be hurt and nobody will know to come to me.
A conversation or even a series of relationships don't make a community. A corporate website with a forum, a blog, a wiki and whatever type of interactive element doesn't make a community. My blog isn't a community (although I've known many of you for a long time...you are my friends, not my community). Social networks may have communities gathering there, but the sites themselves aren't really communities. MySpace definitely isn't a community - it's a social network. A tool for communities to gather.
There is definitely a distinction to be made between a 'network' and a 'community'...a 'group of friends' and a 'community'...a 'neighbourhood' and a 'community', etc. The more I think about it, the more I hate the term 'community marketing'. I want to eliminate the phrase from all future discourse.
Community, much like the Cluetrain thesis, "Markets are Conversations", isn't meant to be a marketing tool. There are elements of it that should guide people in how to conduct themselves in the world - not for personal financial gain, but because there is something fundamentally important to be learnt there. It's about a change in perspective. A swing of the pendulum. Just like economists are starting to shift their thinking from GDP focused measures to GPI focused costs, I really believe there is a growing number of us who are starting to change our thinking from a 'Success=$$' culture to a 'Success=Higher Purpose' culture. Yep, we all need to pay the rent and many of us want to have nice stuff, but if given the choice, we'd rather have more time with our friends and family than money. Or leave the earth knowing we contributed to a better life for future generations than leave the earth knowing that we have a poopload of dollars in the bank. etc.
And, of course, excessive amounts of stuff we may or may not need will continue to be manufactured and peddled to us and we'll probably buy some of it, but no matter of 'community marketing' will make us feel any 'closer' to those brands than we did when we picked them up 'cause they were on sale. And some brands, we will heart because they make us feel pretty or special or fancy or studly, but that ain't community. We may even wink at someone else 'cause we know they are feeling the exact same way, but that doesn't make a community either.
So, darnit. Now I have all of these dang speaking engagements coming up and I guess I'll just have to tell everyone in the audience that they'll probably never have a community on their websites, but they'll just have to create something really awesome that enhances people's lives and gives them a great experience so that, maybe, just maybe they'll want to tell their friends to join and ... oh wait. Where have I heard that before?