The Basics of Communities

Wow, another interesting morning. I started pondering communities again wondering how people can work together on common goals online. Of course, as usual, I started going off in a typical direction in which I over complicated things. Luckily I realized this and knew I had to take a step back and start from scratch with the basics. So I started thinking about communities in the real world, like the one that I live within currently and I started examining how people interact within it. Interestingly enough, I came up with more questions than answers. But that’s ok though because these questions are definitely taking me much closer to the answers that I’m looking for.

People Within Communities

What defines a person in a community in real life? Conversations? Interactions? Commitment? That person is usually in one place having a conversation there (i.e. their place of work) but they may walk around the community and talk to others as well. Therefore, that person is engage in conversations not just in one location but many different ones. They probably do spend most of their time in one location though (i.e. work) but may "bump" into people elsewhere as they walk through the community (i.e. running errands, etc).

For example, a person usually works at one location but relax somewhere else for lunch to get away from their work environment. In addition, each location may be in a different environment and thus may have different social guidelines for it. The person may be polite within their work environment but rowdy at the local tavern where they each lunch with their friends.

Initiating Conversations

Another thing I wondered is how are conversations initiated in the first place? For example, I might see you talking to a shop owner in their store and get a "feeling" of your personality and character before I even meet you. Is this enough to engage you though, to join the conversation as well? I think most people hold back from joining conversations because they don’t have enough of a "feel" of the person to feel comfortable enough to engage them. Thinking about this, I wondered am I opening up with myself enough on my site for people to get a "feeling" about me, so that they can feel comfortable enough to engage in a conversation with me. Funnily enough, after writing the following questions down I realized that no people probably can’t get a good feeling of me from my site.

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • What do you care about?
  • What is meaningful to you?
  • What do you look like?
  • What are your mannerisms?
  • What do you sound like?

What’s really funny is that in real life, if I was standing next to you in a shop, I could probably assess most of these things within less than a minute of listening to a conversation that you were in.

Anyways back to these locations within the community and people interacting within it. Basically what I realized is that a person interacts in different ways within the community. Everyone within the community contributes to it in different ways and in different areas / locations of it. But how do you define or determine if you’re actually contributing to it? Does your interaction help others in the community in some way? By answering a simple question posed by someone are you in effect helping the community (i.e. those around you within it)?

Being Part of a Community

I think started asking myself what communities am I a part of online? What do I do that makes me feel like I’m a part of them? Do I just care about them? Or do I actually contribute to them in some way? If so, how? In what way? Am I committed to others in an ongoing relationship within this community?

For example, I feel like I want to be a part of something larger that has meaning and purpose but what am I doing about it? Am I committed in this relationship with that larger purpose? What I’m getting at here is it sounds like to me that most people basically want "instant gratification" without doing anything for it. It would be like a person saying a marathon race was grueling, yet they rode it in a car while everyone else ran it. You can’t truly experience the feelings of being a part of something unless you are truly engage within it and committed to it. Thus we need to ask ourselves, are we committed to working at this larger purpose and the relationships with others that exist within it?

Finally, a few more startling questions arose which I’ll leave hanging to ponder over the upcoming weekend (as I’m going to take a little bit of time off). So how do we commit to a community then? How do we join one? More importantly, when do we feel accepted and a part of this community? At what point do we feel like we are connected to something larger than ourselves and that we are truly starting down the path of working collaboratively on something that is larger than ourselves.

UPDATE: Are our work environments communities? If so, how do they compare? If not, how do they differ? What’s missing from them?