How Community Works: Past, Present, and Future

The following is a partial transcript of my presentation at Macworld. For full effect, you might just press play on this embedded video on How Community Works: Past, Present, and Future.

How Community Works: Past, Present, and Future

I’ve been a geek for much of my 35 years on this Earth. Most of my life I spent as a Windows user. Yes, I know, and I’m sorry. Don’t worry, since I’ve obviously seen the light to a better path now. It took a long time, and there were actually three key things that led me to throw myself deeper into the Apple community:

  • Apple switching to the Intel platform
  • Leopard
  • Vista

You could say that in the past, I was a person who championed the idea of software on the Windows platform. I was a community leader of sorts, writing a lot of material primarily relating to Windows. When Vista’s Beta 2 began to ship, I met Jim Allchin in person at a Blogger’s Roundtable. He told me specifically that he wanted my honest feedback. So – I gave it to him. My post Windows Vista Feedback listed more than 100 issues that I had with Vista. Little things bothered me, such as the developers using three different fonts in the same window. I was cast out of the Windows community because they said “Who cares?!”. Well, I DID care. I DO still care. To make that long story much shorter: one of my most prized possessions is a DVD of Windows Vista Beta 2, autographed by Jim Allchin. Under his name her wrote: “I’m sorry”.

Community is Already There, Inside Everyone.

The idea of community… of belonging… is everywhere, including inside of you. You are a walking Venn diagram. Think of circles that sometimes intersect with one another. You are a part of many various communities. I live in Seattle, so I belong to that community. I’m now a Mac user, so I’m part of that community as well. There are others who both live in Seattle, and use a Mac. There may even be another layer of people who own a Tenori-On. The idea of community intersects – it flows in between us all. This idea goes with you. It may be odd to think about, since the Internet is set up in silos. You have to say you’re someone’s friend on one website, and then again on another, and yet again on another! It’s unintuitive, and very non-user-centric, this idea of community.

Community isn’t about a Company – It’s about a Culture.

Years ago, I read the Cluetrain Manifesto, and the revelation came to me. The book is based on the idea that markets are conversations. Given the news that Apple will no longer be participating in Macworld, it makes me realize more that this is about the culture, but not necessarily the company. Most of you are disappointed in the news. I am not really surprised by it. To me, this is less about the company, and more about the culture… and the people you connect with. Hopefully you’ve made good connections here. That’s my favorite part of going to events like this. If given a choice between an event like this where I know I’ll share a common bond and some hoity-toity “other” conference… I’m choosing this every time. Making those connections, and spending time with people who want to be here, instead of being told they have to be, is invaluable to me. It doesn’t matter how large a trade-show floor is. A conference is all about the value of the connections you make with people.

Community is Becoming Increasingly Distributed.

This idea of community online used to exist in silos, but those walls are starting to be broken down; the idea of being able to connect with someone on one site and know that you are going to be able to connect with them everywhere else. There are people that know me, just as there a lot of people who DON’T know me. That’s fine. The people that do know me, don’t have to know me through a certain website to connect with me. They don’t have to go to website XYZ to get to know me – I bring that community with me. So if I’m on Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, MySpace… if I know someone on one, they are as much of a friend on the others. Community no longer exists in only one place. It’s everywhere – omnipresent. You bring those relationships with you, whether you are visiting another website, or you are actually meeting people in person, in “meatspace.”

Community Requires Tools that Can’t be Built.

People ask me all the time what I use to build a community. It’s impossible to pinpoint this. A community isn’t something that you just create by installing something. It doesn’t happen that way. The best community tools are ones that cannot be built. It exists in your heart, and extends from there. From your heart, it goes to your mind, then your mouth, and potentially to your fingers (depending on how you are communicating). The idea of putting something in front of a group of people and just expecting things to happen is asinine. I’ve seen people over and over cry out “I started a forum, but no one is joining!”. Well, gee – it’s not like they started the only forum dedicated to whatever it was. What makes one stand out over another? It’s all about what is in your heart, what you take with you wherever you go – that sense of community.

This is just the beginning of what I covered in this presentation at Macworld 2009. There’s more to be discovered about community in this video, including:

  • Community is a Commodity, but People Aren’t.
  • Community Cannot be Controlled, only Guided.
  • Community is no Longer Defined by Physical Boundaries.
  • Community Grows its own Leaders.
  • Community is the Antithesis of Ego.
  • Community needs Macworld more than Apple Does.
  • Community is Everywhere – Including Inside of You.

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