I just this morning discovered Esko Kilpi, who made this comment [say! did you know the URL for an individual comment is right there in the date/time stamp? news to me!] on Jeff Jarvis’s BuzzMachine blog post:
The publicness that the Internet now allows people to have is mistakenly believed to mean trying to get the broadest possible audience. But in effect people are trying to reach like-minded people, in order to belong to a community. There has been a tremendous increase in the amount of material that is available to the public, not really intended for the public, but instead for the emerging communities.
Online communication has challenged our ideas of what a community can be. Social media allow people to relate to groups of people who live beyond the borders of location and time in the very same way that print once allowed information to be free from the constraints of location.
Social media thus redefine what local interaction is and remove the constraints we earlier had on community building.
The view of online as a separate space, a “virtual” space or “cyberspace” is an unfortunate example of a misleading metaphor that makes it hard to understand what is going on today. Our social media tools are no more alternatives to real life than books; they are very much part of it – making life more meaningful.
The web was not created as a whole entity, but as little communities trying to form and talk to each other. This class is one of those, what Rick Schwier called a formal learning community.
One of the things our community is discussing is why we blog, why we participate in this. I responded to Daniel’s comment [really, that's so cool] on Shawna’s post about this (in itself a community act), agreeing that some blog more for reflection, others more for feedback. For those who blog in order to receive feedback, they’re likely looking for feedback from a particular community, or type of person.
If we persist in looking at the web as a space (and that’s my internal metaphor) we need to see the villages as being somewhat isolated from each other, with footpaths connecting them rather than highways. These communities form of similar people with similar interests — all the online discussion boards I was part of in the 1990s were focused on a topic (organic gardening, for example). We were hyperlinked then. We could connect to any other community, object, or item on the web. But we didn’t. That’s not why we were there.
The community we have in this class is created by our instructor, whose own vast connections have been formed by years of hooking up smaller connections. We have been handed wholesale big chunks of Dr Couros’ community, in the form of big bundles in Reader and Twitter. We’ll belong to this community for this class. Will it persist? should it?
In a previous online class I took, the CCK 2008 massive open online class in 2008 (that’s about 10 years ago in internet years), a community was created of hundreds of people. The object at the center was connectivist learning theory. From those connections, I added only three people to my Personal Learning Network, and one was the instructor. Likely that says more about me than those hundreds of people! But many I think would agree that it’s easier to participate in a meaningful way in a smaller community.
I have been blogging since January 2007, yet few of the people in my “real world” community at the college know I blog, care that I blog, or would ever read my blog. It wasn’t about opening my ideas to the whole web, but rather making them available for any who were interested. I prefer connecting with individuals, not groups, and I can only get my head around a certain number of individuals at one time (just ask my students, whose sheer number – 200 per semester – I find difficult to grasp as a collection of individuals).
Perhaps true community, like true democracy (many have argued), rests in smaller groups of people, even on the web.