Learning to write and express yourself succinctly is a valuable skill and spaces like Twitter require it. But online communities are built around conversation that runs deeper than a short set of quick rejoinders. And, how many of us get right what we mean to say on the first or even second time around? Add to that the necessity of real listening and considering, and it just isn't going to happen without a serious investment of time and thought.
I think of Facebook and its comment spaces more like parties where most, but not all, of the people know each other and conversation participants make a point or two and then drift off and reform in other configurations, sometimes with the same people, sometimes not. It's easy to join in and say something quick, but I doubt that things go much deeper than that. And, again, Facebook is mostly built around relationships that already exist. Are my Facebook friends and me and online community? Not really, at least by my reckoning.
The word "community" is so broad and has been used for so many purposes that it can be hard to agree on what it even means. A great many "online communities" these days are actually what I call crowdsourced product support. I'm not knocking that and indeed I often find it very useful. But I think it has helped co-opt the word. What I mean when I say community is a place where people develop real relationships in which each person has their own ratio of personal and professional. Certainly the WELL became famous for doing that and showing that there is no limit to how deep people can go with each other, even based in a computer-mediated environment. But I have seen it happen in many other places.
As for a dream tool/feature/adaptation, most of the things I have wished for already exist. They include:
- AI that helps managers sift through large amounts of material in service of protecting the community from trolls, legal problems, etc.
- good media uploading and display features that let you show as well as tell
- available on multi-platforms and devices
- ways for the users to avoid people and topics if they don't want to see them
- the ability to remember what you have seen in multiple conversations, and quickly take you back there
- user rating schemes
What I haven't seen much, if ever, is a site that rolls all of this up into one great and affordable service. I'm not sure many funders have the patience for it. And too many times I have seen how good moderators don't get paid decently so less mature people get the work. And the whole community arena often lives under the wing of a marketing department and gets ultimately seen as too expensive to do well.
So what I would like to see is this art of relationship building and good listening and understanding given higher value on a platform that really works well. Usually it's one or the other.