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Monday 05| 7|01
What makes a site Community?

I was reading a thread on MetaFilter today where people were discussing the Webby Award nominees for Community and there was a lot of dissent over the definition of what makes a site a community.

I found it interesting that some people didn't think that if there were dollars involved or the site was mostly advertising driven that it didn't count as being a place for community. In my mind, community does not necessarily equal non-profit. I also believe that a site can have a community and be a community without that having been its first intention.

This whole discussion has me thinking again about what makes a community and where is the value to our audience in this as designers. What makes a successful community. If you build spaces like we do here at AOL or like the Community products at Yahoo and others (The Globe, Koz, Homestead etc) does that really make community? If you build the tools, will that empower people to come and create their own communities. How much is enough and when is the market saturated. Does making a homepage constitute community? The big commercial sites - Homestead, AOL, MSN, Yahoo GeoCities think so. Does self publishing and sharing with others consitute community?

What about all those sites nominated for a webby? BeliefNet and ChickClick have components that encourage community and group participation, but are they community sites? Are message boards enough to say "We have a community on our site?" Craig'sList is the eptitome of a people helping people - like the traditional co-ops in college towns, its success is solely on the people who contribute and participate in the postings - but it really is a large classifieds site. So is it really a community site?

This notion of Community seems to be a tricky one. As I posed in a past posting, does publishing for many to see, constitute community or does it take a two way conversation? Must the participants all be interested in the same things. I like to read many types of sites - Plastic, Slashdot, MetaFilter, PeterMe, Elegant Hack, Cnet, F***edCompany, Amazon, The Library of Congress Image Archives - but that doesnt mean I have anything in common with people who post/publish there other than the fact that we both visit the site. Is that enough or to have meaningful community spaces there must be more - real relationships with people coming back often and participating therefore creating a rich tapestry of information and sharing. I don't have the answers and it is interesting to see that others don't really either.

Posted by erin at 07:42 PM | in Community


The final component of a "community" that seems critical to me is a critical mass, a nucleus of people with a near-constant presence. I've tried to build chat sites at work and have utterly failed because the critical mass was never reached to make it worthwhile for other people to keep checking out the community. I built ghost towns. "Community" is a fragile thing; you can do things to foster it, but it's probably impossible to create one out of whole cloth.

Posted by Ralph Brandi at May 8, 2001 11:13 AM

I tend to agree that the critical mass component is one of the things that will make or break the success of community. If you are creating tools for people to build their own community spaces - like we are at AOL, there is the critical mass, but then the end site - say a group - may only have 10 people from a single family in it. Isn't that community? It is based on the relationships criteria of the definition above. I would have to say that without the relationships - there isn't much community, even if there is critical mass.

Posted by erin at May 9, 2001 11:30 AM

I'd be very interested in hearing how AOL's attempt to provide these tools works out once they're rolled out. Sounds like an interesting project.

Posted by Ralph Brandi at May 9, 2001 05:48 PM

I don't think a two-way conversation counts as community per se -- think of talk-back radio ... if there are no "frequent callers" and all callers are random anonymous callers then it doesn't feel like a community. Get those frequent callers, and you start sensing a community.

Posted by Eric at May 9, 2001 10:20 PM

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