bluefluff's blue fluff

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Community Revisited

Way back in June, Nogbad & I had a debate about "community".

I was laying down strict criteria for a community & therefore arguing that lurkers were not part of the community in which they lurk:
For me, a community needs more than commonality. There has to be interaction & bilateral consciousness of participation. I'm doubtful whether "lurkers" can be truly considered part of a community in most cases. Observers, maybe, but not members. When I read conferences on FirstClass without identifying myself or posting messages, I don't regard myself as a member of the community served by that conference, just as a visitor, an "outsider".
"Lurkers" (unless identifiable via message histories etc.) are unseen, unknown - you cannot interact with somebody who, to all intents & purposes, isn't there, & though they may be participating (passively) the community is not conscious of them. Hence consciousness of participation is one-way, not bilateral.

Nogbad made the point (backed up by Kat) that having the potential to contribute is what sets a lurker apart from, say, somebody at home watching TV. The TV audience has commonality, but no opportunity to interact (either with the show or with each other). The lurker does have that opportunity, even if it isn't taken up & s/he remains invisible (metaphorically, of course) to the rest of the community. At the time, I wasn't convinced. I think I was attributing far too much significance to invisibility.

I smiled at this sentence in Rheingold:
If I had encountered sociologist Barry Wellman and learned about social network analysis when I first wrote about cyberspace cultures, I could have saved us all a decade of debate by calling them "online social networks" instead of "virtual communities.

I completely see his point & it removes my mental block. A network can comfortably accommodate both active & passive nodes. Once somebody is connected to the network, they are indubitably part of it, unless/until they decide to disconnect themselves (or are forcibly disconnected - ostracised). They are inside the boundary...

Since June, I've taken some baby steps in systems thinking, been exposed to the network paradigm & dabbled in the sociology of cyberspace. The message is slowly getting through :-)


  • At 08 December, 2005 23:14, Blogger kat said… yes.........I think I would prefer to think of the 2 newsgroups I belong to as networks perhaps rather than communities but I would still like to use the word ‘communities’ for some of the other online groups.
    I have a conference in a VLE at the moment, which with the exception of my posts, looks almost dead. It isn't dead though and I still see it as a community. All the members read the posts, download additional handouts, add and follow links etc and I receive many personal messages each week. If I don’t post, I get a ‘why am I not posting’ comment. Additional they use the personal messages to contact and copy to each other and sometimes :-) include me. We are in class each week and someone always refers to the VLE. They chat about it. I’ve tried getting them to post in the conference area but I’ve decided it isn’t worth risking and upsetting what we have got - They seem to be a happy bunch of conference lurkers. I am not sure how I would feel about it if we weren’t also in a classroom situation.

    I had a very strange experience earlier in the year and found myself feeling jealous of my online self. ( Weird!) One group kept coming into the classroom chatting away about the conference area and including me, but somehow splitting me in two. The other women in the conference seemed to be more powerful, more important and larger than life. I found myself thinking that I was going to cut her down to size when I got home. I have cut her down to size - she was getting on my nerves a bit. :-)

  • At 09 December, 2005 01:37, Blogger Bluefluff said…

    What distinction would you draw between a social network & a community, Kat? Is it that all communities are social networks but not all social networks are communities? What makes the difference?

  • At 09 December, 2005 02:43, Blogger kat said…

    Oh you've changed your reply! You originally said something which made me go away and think very hard about something. I've drafted the rely, came back to answer, only to find that you have deleted the question!! :-))))
    I'm glad they don't move tma questions around like that. :-)

    ( When I refered to the other women by the way, I meant the online 'me'.)

    All communities are social networks but not all social networks make very good communities. But just because I don't class a particular group as a very good community doesn't mean it isn't, of course. Other people may think it is a jolly good community. So really, I am just making a distinction, between the two terms, for my own purposes.

  • At 09 December, 2005 03:25, Blogger Bluefluff said…

    Sorry about that, Kat. Realised my initial reply was prattish in the extreme.

    I think I see what you're getting at. "Community" is a term of approbation, so you apply it when a social network passes a certain "feel good" threshold - for you?

  • At 09 December, 2005 10:07, Blogger kat said…

    Yes. :-)


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