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What exactly *is* community?

albertcnichols profile image Albert Nichols ・1 min read

Community, a definition

There are so many people talking about community, but few have a clear definition of what exactly it is. I've created a framework that can be the basis of conversations and give us common ground.

Communities have the same 3 fundamental components. Understanding these components enables us to design communities that deliver real value and achieve the goals of their members.

Definition: A community is a group of people with a commonality who engage with each other in spaces of interaction.

A community is defined by, and must have, 3 key components:

1. People with a commonality

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Examples of commonality:

  • Having played soccer on the same team in high school
  • Occupying the same profession
  • Having been through the same traumatic experience
  • Living in the same neighborhood

2. Activities members participate in

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Examples of activities:

  • Having dinner (networking dinner for CFOs)
  • Conversing or discussing topics (any subreddit)
  • Competing in a sport (pick-up soccer after work)
  • Sharing resources (flea market)

3. Spaces where activities occur

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Examples of places of interaction:

  • Online discussion spaces: Twitter, Facebook Groups, Reddit
  • Town coffee shop
  • Message board (digital or physical)
  • RPG Games
  • Private clubs

Discussion (3)

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oliverding profile image
Oliver Ding

It's interesting to note that the space is part of the defination. I think we can remove it because any real interaction should happen in some spaces. The second component "Activity" already has it. How about the new version:

A community is a group of people with a commonality who engage with each other with a shared activity.

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albertcnichols profile image
Albert Nichols Author

That's a great insight -- I had contemplated removing it; however, if the activity is something like "conversation" where that conversation happens is quite important. Is it bi-weekly in the living room of someone's house? Or is it on a subreddit. I do think that difference is important.

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Oliver Ding

I think it is easy to test this. Let's say there is a group of people who share a common practice. Now they have two places for having conversation about their common practice. 1. They have the conversation in the living room of one member's house. 2. They have the conversation on a subreddit. Should we claim that this group of people form two communities?

It depends on your unit of analysis. If you want to find a unit of analysis which combines people, activity and place. I think you can consider the concept of "Behavior Settings".

In fact, I personally like the theory of Behavior Settings because it provides a new unit of analysis for studying digital platforms such as "a subreddit-based practice" or "a twitter hashtag-based practice".

Here you even can find someone uses the theory to understand virtual community.

Virtual Behavior Settings: an Application of Behavior Setting Theories to Virtual Communities
academic.oup.com/jcmc/article/9/2/...

I think we don't have to use the concept "community" to understand all types of social phenomena.