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What is "Community"?

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Earlier today, @NotAProBlog (Jordan Cooper from the blog of the same name) tweeted:

Getting sick of @photomatt using “community” in the context as if those who don’t bow down to WP are somehow not part of it. #thesiswp

This is in regards to the Thesis/WordPress debate, which seems to have all but taken over the blogging world. I’ve posted my own opinions on this debate already, so I don’t bring up this tweet as a way to start debating whether Matt and WordPress or Chris and Thesis are right. No, I thought this tweet was interesting, because it pointed out that we sometimes have a warped sense of what the term community really means.

A Common Characteristic

A community starts because a group of individuals all share a single characteristic. Offline, that characteristic is often living in the same neighborhood. You can be a community if you all enjoy a certain hobby, too; for example, in the video game world, we’ll often refer to the “such-and-such-game community,” like the Halo community or the Sims community, made up of people who all play a specific game. The common characteristic for readers on your blog? They read your blog.

While this common characteristic can bring members of a community together, it doesn’t mean that you’re similar in any other way. You might live next to an older, retired couple while you live with a spouse and two children. You might enjoy playing a a game online, while the next gamer enjoys playing locally with friends or by him/herself.

When it comes to a blog community, everyone reads the same posts, but they come from a variety of backgrounds, so opinions are going to vary. Greatly.

Community versus Demographic

A single common characteristic doesn’t a community make. That’s just a demographic. Lots of people have things in common, but I wouldn’t consider some random girl on the other side of the world who also happens to have blue eyes as being in a community of blue-eyes girls with me. It takes something more to be a community.

In my opinion, that something more is interaction. You’re part of a community because you interact with other people who share a common characteristic with you, in the context of that characteristic. Friendships might form outside of that characteristic, but it is that one thing that first brings you together.

Interaction isn’t always in a positive manner, though. If people don’t like your blog post, they are still be a part of your community if they choose to interact by leaving a comment. A community isn’t a bunch of people who gather to say, “Heck yes! We’re awesome!” Members of a community might even hate one another. One of the best things about community is the variety of opinions.

The Death of a Community

I would actually go as far as saying that a community with no controversy is a dead community walking. You don’t have to have issues as dividing as WordPress versus Thesis, but if everyone just agrees all the time, it’s actually a bad thing for your blog community.

Think about it – when a blog post doesn’t have any comments except “I agree!” things get boring pretty quickly. Of course, you want to please your audience, but covering topics that lend to debate isn’t a bad thing. This isn’t about a bunch of people patting one another on the back for doing a good job. If that’s what’s your blog is all about, your community sucks.

I guess, my point is that I agree with Jordan’s tweet. A dissenting opinion doesn’t mean that you aren’t part of a community. In fact, you are an important part of the community. Keep that in mind with your own readers. Just because someone isn’t your BFF doesn’t mean that they aren’t part of why your blog is successful.

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. Heck yes! She’s awesome!

Image: sxc.hu


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  • Dave Taylor

    I dunno, I’m pretty immersed in the blogging community, I spoke at Wordcamp Boulder a week ago, and I haven’t heard ANYthing about this “great debate”. I suggest that one of the ramifications of highly connected social networks is that it’s often hard to realize that your subcommunity (or social graph) is NOT the greater world at large. 🙂

  • Bob Egner

    I generally agree with your thesis about community versus demographic. However, I believe interaction is not the only requirement to make you part of the community. Our customers who operate their own social networks tell us that lurkers are part of the online community too.

    The often cited 1-9-90 rule (Participation Inequality – Jakob Nielsen, Groundswell – Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li) means that your community can be much larger than what you might measure by interaction. In other words, there are community members who participate through consumption of content regardless of their further action.

    Perhaps these community members are interacting in different ways or through alternate channels.

  • Allison

    Bob,

    You make a really good point. I do think that “interaction” isn’t just about being vocal through comments. It can mean bookmarking the site or subscribing to the feed, retweeting links, linking to something you’ve said on their own blog, and maybe even just taking your advice on something and using it in their life. Lurkers do interact in some way, I think. Someone who lands on your site once through a search engine reads a post, and never comes back…I’m not sure they’re part of a community. I guess that point is arguable!

  • Mihai Secasiu

    I don’t know how Matt looks at it but when I think about the wordpress community I think about all the developers that contribute code to wordpress core or plugins and release their code as GPL. I know my community view may be limited but as you said community means interaction but it also means contribution to what makes it the community ( and that’s wordpress in this case ). Usually there’s little contribution from the actual users. When they contribute they usually become developers.
    I think Matt is worried that the community of developers that contribute to making wordpress better is hurt when others are profiting from it without respecting the same terms as they do.

    I’m sure the members of that community have arguments , just because they might all agree on this partcular issue that doesn’t mean they are not a community.

    Now all these wordpress users that are against the GPL say they don’t care about the license. Of course they don’t care, they are are not the one that put their time in it.
    And some of those are also Thesis affiliates so for them it’s even worse if Thesis would go out of business like Chris believes.

  • Kathyrn Cappellini

    Helpful and great things you have here. Keep posting! I’m usually looking to read on that subject.

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