Ideas on Community

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.

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13 Responses to Ideas on Community

  1. Intrigued by this point you made:

    “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?”

    The key — I think — is to embrace what you said at the bottom of your post (re: the size of your audience/conversation) a range of folks that really tap into your passions, research, and on-going question set…as well as to expand beyond the ‘obvious’ in terms of those very 3 things.

    As for whether or not a “wholesale big chunk[ed]” audience being handed to you, a wise point. And given how audiences are ever-shifting –> especially since “Twitter killed my blog (audience)” sentiments have become more the norm in the last few years (since the heyday of the rabid blog audience moment that was happening a few years back in the edu-blogosphere) –> it is key to see all points/nodes on your networked pathways as ‘potential’ colleagues and resource sets, rather than as a conceptual network of links/comments/feeds.

    All the best in your course and path. Give my best to Alec (i.e. Dr. Couros) when you see him in class next.

    • llane says:

      I didn’t know there was a discussion going on about Twitter vs blogging. Like an updated version of “video killed the radio star”.

      • Consider it more of a quick one-liner by those who used to have much more vibrant blog audiences (when there were — logically — fewer folks blogging and folks tended to all read the same ones to keep ‘in the know’) who now have begun to realize that the medium changed, and therefore the conversation shifted. Hence, “Twitter killed my blog”

        But yes, there are a wide range of conversations about the nuances of one piece of social media over another, as well as how folks are now relying on pithy (or not) 140-character “elevator pitches” or link suggestions as their only form of way-finding. Someone may have written an extraordinary blog post, yet their tweeted suggestion to “come check out my blog post about…” may lack enough sway on the eyeballs/emotions/brain. And vice versa — perhaps a great one sentence headline with next-to-nothing in substance once one clicks the Twitter/FB link.

        And where many used to subscribe to (and read) many blogs (and longer posts), more are taking advantage of a headline-approach via Twitter, and then deciding if its worth reading. Skimming has become a de facto talent/need. And given how many people are now writing (and how — hate to say it — many of those conversations inspire a been-there/done-that response from those who may have already walked a similar self-discovery path via social networking/social media), it’s near impossible to actually read all the content that is worth reading. The market has become saturated (good and bad), and yet there are still only 24 hrs in a day.

        For instance, if I didn’t have an established relationship w/ Alec, and come to truly appreciate the sophisticated/authentic way that he’s constructed your class experience, I’m not sure I’d be able to rationalize setting time aside every few nights to a) read the blogs of strangers, b) comment and subscribe, and c) re-comment/converse, let alone also keep an eye on Twitter feeds and the class’ hashtag, let alone offer any sort of mentoring and legit exchange over time. But, because Alec is a ‘filter’ and ‘search’ engine of sorts, I can see the value proposition in this exchange. A great chance to learn about how others learn and to re-connect with those experiences I had in a similar way. And also a way to continually re-invest in a distant relationship with Alec in professional terms.

  2. Jud Trenholm says:

    Thank you for this post. I have been struggling with people’s motivation blogging. Would you prefer that more people in your “real world” community read your blog? For those who do read your blog in your real life community do you engage in conversations about your posts in real life or primarily online? How often do you interact with those you add to your personal learning network?

    I am sorry for the barrage of questions but for myself with my stint with blogging from 2002-2004 the site was primarily done for me with no real consideration for who might read it. Being the time it was there was no way to comment on the site which is exactly how I wanted it. So I am trying to wrap my head around people’s motivations.

    • llane says:

      Nope, I wouldn’t prefer that more people in my real world read my blog, although it would be nice for them to know I have one. I do put links to my blog at our Program for Online Teaching website and elsewhere, and those who do occasionally read it tend to engage me only in person about it — I can only think of one colleague who has commented on the blog itself.

      That said, I piped the blog into my professional Facebook account a couple of weeks ago, and I am now seeing an occasional “like” or a short comment from those I work with who are in FB. Still experimenting with that format… I don’t like that it strips my images when it puts it in Notes.

      I really have trouble thinking of the people I communicate with primarily online as my Personal Learning Network. I know it’s trendy, but it sounds like I created them! I know them as individuals, and never know what to call them. “Ed, you know the guy I know online who does all those cool things from Pennsylvania” is awkward but I’m not willing to go to “someone from my PLN” yet.

      • Why not just say, “My colleague, [insert name here], shared this wonderful piece of curriculum that…” or “The other night I received some advice from a team of folks I’ve been talking to about how kids can become better communicators.”

        As much value as there may be in “the guy I know online” and “from my PLN” may offer in terms of technical accuracy, it all boils down to someone we trust (at whatever level) and a conversation we’re in (at whatever level).

        Academia and marketing trends aside, one never walks away confused, annoyed, or isolated when we call someone a “colleague”.

        • llane says:

          Good point – “colleague” is the one word I can always use. My only hesitation is that people assume it’s someone from my workplace; otherwise, it works! :-)

          • Nothing wrong w/ an assumption of “colleague” implying “of the same workplace”.

            I suppose the only shift, then, is to consider the larger, ‘global’ network of professionals sharing/collaborating/talking via a multiplicity of tools and iterations IS now “our workplace”.

            We may set up shop in a different school or country, but then again…that’s not very different from being in separate classrooms ‘down the hall’, esp. since most educators in the same building rarely collaborate in truly meaningful ways.

            And what a just-in-time/always on network provides is meaningful, authentic, customized, and engaging interactions between colleagues.

            Like, one could easily argue, this very blog comment thread. Which started as a solo intellectual series of statements, then became a response (comment by comment), and then became an authentic network of colleagues choosing to invest in one another regardless of geography/distance/time.

            Ultimately, geography/distance/time no longer matters. Not nearly as much as it did.

            All that does matter is the addition of “quality” in our lives / experiences –> professional development, materials, resources, ideas…

            …and colleagues.

            No matter where they may call home.

  3. ktenkely says:

    Really interesting point made here. I agree with you, the blogging journey really isn’t a journey with the “public” in the large sense of the word. It is really a community of people who believe as you do (or who want to argue with you). They are smaller communities. I blog for education but even within my school few know that I blog, even those that remember that I do don’t visit it. They aren’t interested in becoming part of that community. There are those on Twitter who happily follow me because I was recommended by a friend but have no idea that I blog. It really is the smaller community that now has a different medium for connecting whereas before they may not have connected to anyone.

  4. Mary Worrell says:

    I really like the metaphor you used. It has me rethinking the way I view the networks of which I’m apart – online and in real life (I resisted the urge to type IRL. I really wanted to!). Rather than this vast, internet super highway of information, I think your idea of smaller footpaths worn into existence by the people that came before us is closer to the truth. Every time we reach out to another teacher or educator or any Twitter user, we’re making a connection helping create a path. This is also making me think of brain-shattering maps of the semantic web in Katy Ray’s documentary.

    I started out blogging in hopes that people would read it and respond, but I’ve since abandoned those desires and that’s when my real reflection started. I’m sure the posts I wrote hoping people would read were not as transparent as the ones I write more for myself than others. Yes, it’s always in the back of my mind that this information is out there for anyone to read, but I’m focused more now on working out my ideas and opinions. Like singing in the shower versus karaoke with colleagues.

    One of my favorite quotes and one that I think helps explain my reasons for blogging is by EM Forster: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say.”

  5. llane says:

    I like your singing in the shower vs karaoke metaphor also!

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  7. Heather Ross says:


    I was lucky enough to work as Rick Schwier’s research assistant for three years, two of those on the virtual learning communities study. One of the elements of community, I believe plurality, has to do with the connections that we bring to a community from other communities that we are a part of. I might learn something from people I follow on Twitter and share it with a colleague. I might share something that I learned from a family member with those who read my blog. And removing the technology completely, I might make a dish that I learned to make from my grandmother and share it with my supper club (those elements of community existed long before the Internet, even if we hadn’t named them). Communities (and individuals within them) need influences from outside to see real growth (not in numbers, but in knowledge).