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What does it mean to be in a community, now.

As I think about a way to communicate to future users, in the most specific and exciting way, what Fluther.com really is, I’ve started to consider what it means to be part of a community. Every site has a “community” now, where you can “connect” to fellow site surfers. But community, as it rapidly diminishes from real life, means people who live/work/play together. People who share similar values and who look out for each. Communities police the community, and bad behavior is usually caught and addressed. People in communities are held accountable for their actions by other members. Communities protect their own, and in doing so the community at large. They seek, like everything in nature, to survive and that means making sure that people act in a way that doesn’t destroy the trust and foundation upon which the community is built.

Here’s a version (see the movie Moonstruck for visual representation). If cousin Joe stands up neighbor Sally for their date, everyone at church next Sunday is going to be talking about it, and cousin Joe is going to hear about it later, if not from Sally’s uncle Chuck, then from the butcher. Joe knows when he asks Sally out, he’s going to have to show up or be held accountable. This knowledge extends to his actions on the date to some extent as well. The community is looking out for Sally, and in a way, for Joe, and ultimately the community is protecting and encouraging the arrival of little Joe’s and Sally’s and thereby the propagation of the entire community.

Now consider this version.

Joe searches from a bank of ten thousand women (where many pictures are not entirely representative). Joe likes Sally’s picture and reads her profile. Joe pokes/nudges/winks at Sally. Sally reads Joe’s profile. She pokes/nudges/winks back. Joe contacts her. They chat online, or send a few emails. They talk words via voice or text by cell phone. They plan to meet a week later. By that time, Joe has met June, had cybersex with her and forgotten all about his date with Sally. He doesn’t show, or call, or email, or respond in any way. After one or two attempts, Sally moves on. For Joe the incident is so long forgotten, it is likely Sally will never cross his mind in any way ever again. It is never mentioned to him by anyone. He doesn’t even have to delete her profile from his list because it drops so far to the bottom it is never seen again.

So, how good an online dating “community” are we working with here? Does that even fit the definition of a community?

How do we fashion a community online that adheres to what we mean when we say (or used to say) community? When, we, at Fluther say community, we mean, a group of people who are serving the interests, in action and behavior of the group and in doing so, their own individual interests as well.

I am seeking to represent this kind of old-fashioned community thriving online in a word, and I’m not sure that “community” will work. And I believe the word matters.

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4 thoughts on “What does it mean to be in a community, now.”

  1. This is an interesting point.

    It seems to conclude that some amount of public information is necessary for a healthy community.

    That makes sense, but it’s an important element to be aware of when deciding where to live on the public-private spectrum.

  2. I don’t think I would define any dating website as a community. I would say that they are services. Your discussion of investment and accountability (or lack thereof) is right on, I think. Individuals can be expected to act selfishly on a dating site, and to cease involvements once certain needs are met.

    I don’t think “community,” in its true definition, is an incorrect term for what you are trying to build at Fluther (or what exists at Metafilter, to take a similar example). I think the problem exists in the proliferation of the term in describing websites and services that do not leverage or inform true community.

    But I don’t know how to “take back” the term.

    I think you’ll enjoy this “There are no social networks” post. Sites like Fluther are a bit different in that they tend to build a social network which doesn’t necessarily previously “exist in real life.”

  3. I know I work at Seesmic, but i’m also a Seesmic user, and I feel like I have a more realistic community there. We see one another, we talk to one another, and I’ve met about 15 people in “For Realz”. Don’t know about the dating sites but I think communities can be built online. And who doesn’t love waisting time you could be working?

  4. Carlos: good point about service sites vs. community sites. I agree. Maybe the problem is when we take something that should community and make it service.

    Whit: I agree as well. Not sure what For Realz is but I’m digging Seesmic, being watch Loic do is thing and I watched the little movie, staring you, on your site.

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