Communities, networks and etiquette

What’s the difference between a community and a network? Is a community of practice a network or a community?

Clark Quinn looks at social media, and asks, “… how often we call them online communities, but the question is: are they really?” I’m not going to go into network theory or definitions in this post but I think that the difference, perceived or otherwise, between networks and communities is of importance to anyone engaging with web social media, especially for professional purposes. Understanding what you define as a community or a network can help develop your personal rules for connecting, linking, friending, following and of course unfollowing.

Dave Cormier discusses social networking with Twitter and makes a clear distinction between his network and his community on this medium:

The final issue i wanted to discuss was the management of your network. There are many theories about this, and I wont claim any supremacy for mine other than to say that it is how i stay effective with the degree of networkedness that I have created for myself. I am a constant gardener of my network, following people, unfollowing people, paying more attention to some people for a while and then moving on to others. This is the critical difference between a network and a community… My community members i stay with, my network is something more practical.

Many of us are connected to people in our networks who over time have become members of a closer community, whether it be through shared experiences or shared interests. We probably didn’t notice when connections became colleagues or friends. It just happened.

I’m sure that most people don’t think too much about the distinction between networks and communities but they know when someone has crossed the line of acceptable behaviour. Making network habits explicit can help when your networks get very large or when someone challenges you on a behaviour – e.g. Gee, I never thought about that! The larger someone’s network, usually the more explicit their policy on connecting. If you don’t set some rules you will probably be overwhelmed by noise from the network.

If social media are going to be an integral part of our professional and personal lives, all of us will need to become more explicit about our online etiquette. I’m not sure we need an Emily Post type of online etiquette guide but I’m certain many people will make money telling others what to do in the Networked Age.

Photo by alana jonez

5 Responses to “Communities, networks and etiquette”

  1. Karyn Romeis

    Dave Warlick is looking at the same sort of thing today. I don’t like the idea of drawing lines. It means making decisions about who is in and who is out. I don’t think those boundaries are particularly helpful. I value indviduals for themselves and the relationship we have. Sure, some are closer than others, some have become more personal than others, but I wouldn’t want to start ring-fencing them.

  2. Harold Jarche

    I’m not advocating the drawing of boundaries, Karyn, just the fact that we live, work and learn in networks and also belong to communities. Each of us has to decide what works best, especially as our networks get very large. You and I have a personal, albeit at a distance, relationship, but many people in my networks are for all and intents and purposes unknown to me.

  3. Ken Allan

    Kia ora Harold

    I’m inclined to agree with you. A community is made up of members that have a sustained commitment to cooperation and mutual support. How else does it remain a community?

    I’m beginning to own the opinion that the concept of an online learning community, though wonderful to have, is really an ideal and theoretical model that we strive to achieve in online learning groups.

    Much research has already been done, but even with these results and conclusions staring us in the face, many educators are in a state of denial that so-called online learning groups might not work the way we’d like them to.

    My analogy for all this is the idea enthusiasts had early last century that it should be possible to fire a rocket into space. The concept was sound. It was the practicalities that everyone found difficult – at first.

    You detect a ray of hope in what I’m saying?

    Okay. I’m an optimist.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  4. Harold Jarche

    In some ways I think that communities are emergent properties of networks. You can build the network but the community has to evolve of its own.


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