Thursday, June 01, 2006

Online Community Camp and Proprietary Communities

Online Community Camp was a hybrid between a one-day conference and an open-space unconference. It struck me that most people in the room were not the Web2.0 Geekerati that dominated WineCamp and NetSquared (I say this based on a simple comparison of WineCamp blogs, tags and photos (or NetSquared blogs, tags, photos) and occ2006 blogs, tags and photos) The audience represented a large range of coporate and for-profit interests, with (slightly more than a) handful of nonprofits thrown in, so maybe occupying the middle ground of hierarchy vs. spontaneous organization was best after all. Another element that was striking was that most people seemed to refer to message boards as the primary definition of "online community" (although you can build an online social network of people with related interested in photo communities, event communities, and even collections of tags).

Although the OCC crowd was honestly interested in sharing best practices and feedback, many were less interested in actual transparent community sharing, and more interested in building their own communities to increase their own value. Now I say this without judgement - a community of support for learning-disability--challenged children doesn't need to be visible across the world - but other communities presented where definitely more arbitrarily closed. My "gestalt" from this meeting was a) the obvious, that online communities (and the buzzword social networking) are hot, and b) there are a lot of people who believe they can either make money directly, or build the value of their organization, by building an online community.

Again, I don't have a problem with this philosophically. There are very good reasons - even for activist nonprofits or for private coporations - to build communities that can support and add value (and improve the sustainability) of the "parent" organization. As for "monetizing your community" - well, I may consider myelf more of a venture socialist than capitalist but if anything I'm a data communist (commonist?).

And this comes back to the fundamental challenge I had with the conferenece - very few people were interested in overlapping communities, or how to share communities and community content. (There was a tiny audience of partially interested people at the identity / data standards lunchtime talk, given by Identity Woman. I'm very interested in her and other's work in the Identity Commons, for reasons described below). Everyone seemed to think they could build an independent community that would somehow be able to compete for a user's attention better than anyone else's - and that goes for nonprofit organizations building communites of support or activism as well as the dating communties, the "brand loyalty" communities and social networking communities.

I don't believe in that. I believe that communities will not be locations, but shared interests and conversations and photos and music (read: data) that can be found and sifted through using the right tools. (and I believe in open wikis so that other people who are valuable to the conversation can join in - and so that information can be found later by search engines, etc).

So as I try to redesign an online community, I'm particulary interested in how people can participate without having to continually come back to the site URL - i.e. how can I build my online community so that it plays with all the right tools. That doesn't mean I'm going to ignore the more basic users who will come to the site, log in, and then post information - but I want to make sure that people can publish remotely from their web browser (i.e. using Flock or Performancing); they can read information remotely, (i.e. use standards such as XML/ RSS and Microformats). And I want to republish from other sites (using a RSS reader or aggregator) as well as publish out to other sites (uisng things like automatic XML genration and using tags...). And ultimately, I want the site to be able to access and share an open identity format - to distribute not only basic login information, but different levels of identity profile information.

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Blogger Factory Joe said...

Hey, make sure you drop by our coworking space and check out our "online-offline" community! ;)

5:23 PM  

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