Blogs Are Not Virtual Communities

photo courtesy of sel on flickr
(photo courtesy of -sel- on flickr)

John Hagel III

As I read John Hagel’s post on Community 2.0, where he defines what he means by “virtual communities”, I am struck once again at how terrible a blog is in attempting to create a sense of community.

Let me offer my own definition of virtual community so that you will at least know what I mean by the term. For me, virtual community involves:

  • establishing connections on electronic networksamong people with common needs
  • so that they can engage in shared discussions
  • that persist and accumulate over time
  • leading to complex webs of personal relationships and an increasing sense of identification with the overall community

The key elements of virtual community, therefore, are shared discussions, shared relationships and shared identity. Now, these may seem arbitrary but, as I’ll discuss below, they contribute to building shared meaning, shared trust and shared motivation in ways that are distinctive and responsive to the growing needs among participants.

These elements also help to distinguish virtual communities from a variety of other Internet enterprises:

  • Social networks – focus on identity creation and connection with friends, but lack the same degree of shared discussions and shared identity as VCs
  • Electronic markets – primary focus on transactions rather than relationships
  • Content aggregation sites – display and access interesting content but limited focus on shared discussions and shared relationships

I honestly cannot believe that blogs help create any amount of identity for anyone other than the writer. There’s little, if any, ability to connect with friends (except the writer), and virtually no shared identity. What I say goes, and what design I want stays.

Blogs certainly aren’t electronic markets because they’re not designed for the transactions. Blogs can fit the content aggregation site model, but they’re kinda lame when they just aggregate other people’s content. Anyone can aggregate content now with a plethora of tools at their disposal.

Fixing the problem

So, how can we fix this? Should we fix this?

Blogs do certainly have a place in this world as personal publication tools. But, I’m not interested in solely publishing my thoughts. I am more interested in connecting with you folks.

What I like about blogs are the completely customizable nature of them. This design fits my personality in some ways. It reflects certain things about me. It also gives me the power to publish what I want, when I want to, without any notifications, spammy corporate-ness, or other nuisances you have to deal with when you join third party social networks.

What a blog lacks is the ability to connect with my friends. I don’t need the messaging systems (I have and like to use email). I don’t need the “friending” features, because my ideal online virtual community would be self-selecting. I do want to see when my friends post on their blogs and when it relates to things I’ve posted. I want to see their videos, photos, and more all in one place. I want to share files quickly and without hassle and have a common chat room. I don’t want to browse for new people, I want to be introduced to them by my friends, and then I want to say I like them or not.

So, that’s what I want. What do you want? How do we fix this thing we call the social web?

[tags]blogging, community, social, publishing, hagel[/tags]

Nate Ritter lives in San Diego, CA who popularized the #hashtag and creates scaleable web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

4 Comments on "Blogs Are Not Virtual Communities"

  1. jnizzle says:

    What about Slashdot.org? Do you consider that site a blog? I think that site is definitely in the spirit of blogging, a great example of blog content with a community that fuels it.

  2. nate says:

    jnizzle,

    No, I don’t consider it a blog. Blogs are formats of content, not content itself. Slashdot is considered a forum because of the emphasis on original posts/threads being contributed or started from the community rather than from one person’s perspective. But, that does bring up a good question: What is the difference between a forum and a group blog (where more than one person contributes original posts in a blog)?

    Because we’re speaking in the context of “virtual communities”, I believe there’s a nice big fuzzy line that group blogs sit in. There definitely can be a group blog which is a virtual community, and actually works toward enhancing it. It may have changed since I remember it, but I believe Slashdot fits into that fuzzy category, where the community submits news and the editors actually have the power to post it, edit it, or kill it.

    Regardless, my point of writing this post was to kill the myth that just creating a blog creates a virtual community. It doesn’t. Group blogs, maybe – with the right amount of individualism and ability to contribute. Forums are close, but don’t have the personality of the user coming out as much as they could. What kind of hybrid could we make that would fix all this?

  3. Bayle Shanks says:

    I think wikis satisfy all of your criteria. Especially when used as a medium-sized group discussion forum (rather than as an encyclopaedia, or a part of a specific project or conference); for example, MeatballWiki: http://www.usemod.com/cgi-bin/mb.pl

  4. nate says:

    I guess that’s a possibility. I’ve never thought of wikis as community enhancing though. I do understand communities use them, but those are two different things.

    For straight dialogue, I find them somewhat unwieldy, though. Just my opinion.

    Do you have any examples of wikis that are acting as a facilitation of communication user to user, or user to group (not just communicating information to the public alone)?

 
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