Don’t focus on making or building or managing anything called “a community.” Foster good and energetic conversation. Give it a place to happen. Let the network know about your network. Invite interesting and outspoken people. Let community happen if it’s meant to. If the juice is there, people will stick around and make it interesting.” This is part of a great note on Mitch Ratcliffe’s site.
Cliff was one of the key people in building The WELL, the “place” most people think of when they talk about online community, whether they know it or not. I was a lurker on The WELL in the early 90’s and most of what I learned about the Internet and online community came from the conversations and meta-conversations that took place there.
Community is still happening all over the Net, often in unexpected places. To my knowledge community has never been a commercial success, despite all the lip service paid to it during the Bubble.
I’ve learned a lot more about my physical community from a local mailing list than I have from the local newspaper, and the people I met there inspired me to get involved in a (local) political campaign for the first time in my life.
I don’t think anyone could have guessed that community could evolve among thousands of individual web sites, each of them a virtual monologue, but web logs indeed coalesce into communities. Dave Winer deserves a lot of credit for creating and empowering that community, and for creating by example the nature of the conversation that happens there.
Surprisingly, there are still a lot of communities on Usenet. It wasn’t that long ago that when reporters referred “the Internet”, as in “What does the Internet think of Jerry Garcia’s death?” they meant Usenet. Google deserves our gratitude for rescuing Usenet’s archives from the ashes of Deja News and for creating a usable Web-based interface for new postings.
I used to call “community” the Big Lie of the Internet, mainly because of the way that people who didn’t understand what it meant intended to harness it for commercial purposes.
Creating a community is still the hardest thing to do on the Web, or anywhere else.