Communities and Social Networking


Communities an social networking, to an extent, are concepts which are overlapping. Let me explain why i think so. Communities are about people who are brought together for something specific (or maybe not, but usually), like a shared interest, or a shared stake in a business requirement, or reasons which are similar. Which has brought up terms like communities of interest, communities of practice … though i feel that at the basic level, they are communities, whether brought together by interest or by practice or another parameter. So, underlying is the idea that communities are a group of people who have something in common.

Now, what are social networks? In a social network, people who are in some way connected with each other, whether through a shared interest, or whether through just knowing each other, come together by creating connections that can be used for something. This something at one level is just keeping in touch, or knowing what others you know are doing, what they are reading. At another level social networks are about keeping in touch with what people with shared interests are doing, reading, the people they are connecting with, identifying people who are experts in your area of interest, and so on. Which implies that at an oversimplified level, a social network is also a community. Or maybe thats not an oversimplification. But if we look at them closely, whether communities or social networks, they are about people being connected by something, whether it be shared interest or just knowing each other, with shared interests emerging from there.

So what is the role of communities in this realm of social networking. As you can see from facebook, for example, there can be communities within social networks, like you would find groups on facebook which are a cross-section of social networks. For example, you may be a member of a group of which no one from your social network is a member, or you may share a group with a lot of people from your social network. But the question which comes is whether the role of communities in the social networking realm is as well defined as we would have thought maybe five years ago? Are communities as well structured or well defined as they were? Or are they becoming more and more fluid?

What i am saying is that in the realm of social networking, communities may be moving to a form where they are less well-defined and are not persistent either. People could be leveraging their social networks for identifying people who could help with something, coming together with them, solving the problem, and thats about what the interaction for that particular scenario would be about, and beyond this, the social network would continue to be the way it is and the community doesnt really persist beyond the specific requirement. In other words, communities come together from among the social network for a particular requirement and then they just dissolve into the larger fabric of the social network. Or we could say that the social network becomes the source for communities, facilitating the search for people and the means for communities to come together?

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