(See the first post in this series for what I'm doing.)
As I've been thinking about the interactions that take place online, in my mind they've fallen into two broad categories based on 'venue':
- Centralised, if not necessarily in a technological sense, where the interactions take place through a specific website, newsgroup, mailing list or similar.
- Decentralised, in the manner of separate blogs forming an organic network.
Within these groups I find that that there is variation as to what brings them together.
Networks and groupings can form on the basis of:
- Shared interest or purpose, for example a discussion forum or mailing list focussed on a particular subject. I have participated in groups discussing technology of various flavours, youth ministry, theology, particular authors, photography and even the collection and use of fountain pens. This sort of group can be an excellent source of information.
- Shared experience, for example Friends Reunited, or the way many use Facebook — "we went to school together."
- Shared presence — stumbling into people you have never and may never have otherwise met. In my short experience this is the way MySpace seemed largely to operate.
All these factors reflect processes that occur in the real world, where we physically meet different people in all kinds of different contexts.
Where I find it more difficult to draw a real-world parallel is in the 'blogosphere'.
Anyone (with the necessary resources) can publish a website, and can interact with what anyone else has published either through direct communication (public or private) or by responding back on their own site. Networks of individuals gather around particular conversations, but can also easily draw in others who have some other incidental interest or curiosity. It's fascinating (to me at least) to click around various blogs and follow the lines of who links to who, and who participates where — and you can participate in the wider network to as large or as small a degree as you like.
There are strengths and weaknesses in each of these forms of network, and they all intermingle anyway, connecting and overlapping through the individuals involved. I suppose it's called the 'web' for a reason :-) You probably could map it, but it would get very complicated very quickly.
So far I've deliberately avoided using the word 'community', even though it has threatened to roll out by itself. I'm wary of applying that name to what goes on online, but it's a question that needs asked:
Is this 'community'?
That's for the next post in this series.