Communities and Networks

Communities and Networks

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Communities and Networks

For the first few paragraphs, I found myself resisting this piece. But then, as I kept going, the distinctions that this piece makes between communities and networks started to sink in, and I think it’s a useful frame. It’s clearly a fuzzy line, so I actually don’t think of it as black or white. But like all frameworks, it’s a useful model to get us to ask questions about what we’re seeing in real life. 

Thanks for flagging this one, John Verdon. 

#community   #network  

Originally shared by John Verdon


  1. I agree with many of the points made, but the problem I have with articles like this is they assume the intention of the person.  They apply one-size-fits-all logic to situations, rather than how an individual’s attitude towards the situation affects the outcome. 

    For example, Networks can contain many Communities, full of people who do engage on a daily basis, and meet face to face. This is dependent on the people, their attitudes, and willingness to connect on a deeper level. 

    You can’t focus on numbers, which everybody seems to do these days. The point in the article about the Dunbar number is dead on, and those who focus on getting as many followers as possible are building networks, while those who focus on building relationships with a select few (few as in a couple hundred) are building a community. 

    You get out of it what you put in. If you treat it like a Network, that’s what you’ll get. 

  2. Great read. Thx.

  3. This is a timely article and important subject in its own right, even if not in the context of comparing to networks, online or off. I have long opined that the lack of real community is a major problem and contributor to modern societies’ ails for over 100 years, particularly, in big cities. At the heart of what it means to be human is community, beginning, but not ending with family. This problem is further exasperated when there is too much diversity, and lack of common unified goals, purpose, work, beliefs etc.

  4. I agree with you Phil Bowyer that networks can contain several communities, just like communities contain several (numerous) families

  5. Great comment, Phil Bowyer , and you too, Blair Warner. Yeah, the thing I struggled with when reading this was a network/community that I used to be active in. It exhibits aspects of both of what this article describes as network and as community. It meets in person once a year and many of the connections are maintained through personal connections in real-life. And yet, it also exhibits many of the attributes of a plain old network. 

    I probably should have gotten into this a bit more in my intro to this piece, but I was running a bit too fast…

    The really interesting place, I believe, is how we begin to blur these lines more and more. In fact, it’s that blurring between network-type engagement and community-type engagement that was the focus of much of the consulting of the organization I used to run. We used an “engagement pyramid” model, where the bottom of the pyramid was more “networky” and the top was more like a community. 

  6. In reference to the last paragraph of your last comment, that sounds awesome!

  7. great catch Gideon Rosenblatt, it’s a fascinating article with many good points. Though I do wonder if there may be something in between. If we apply his ‘rule’ that communities must be in one location, then any kind of virtual meeting place can never be a community. 

    Google+ seems to be more than a network (depending on how one uses it) but obviously not a community in the true sense.

    ping to Chris Abraham: what say you?

  8. you need to move furniture..  the differences become clear. all the way up to actual friends. —  Seinfeld and anon.

  9. ping Amanda Blain 

  10. Here’s a pointer to a framework for the engagement pyramid, Blair Warner:

  11. I’m with you, Susanne Ramharter. My experience of this place is that there is something in-between going on here. I think that most of the connections that we have here would definitely be just network connections, but that there really do seem to be clusters within that network that behave like something more akin to a community in the way that the author describes it. Maybe not all the way there, but close in many respects. 

  12. Sorry but I found the piece to be poorly argued, self-contradictory, plain wrong in parts, circularly reasoned (where an assumption is used as its own proof) and opinion disguised as fact.

    I’ll expand when I have time/not on phone.

  13. My thoughts exactly Gideon Rosenblatt , particularly when one ‘stumbles’ over the same people in such a variety of different posts. That seems to go towards his description of the aspect of the ‘whole person’ being seen in a community.

  14. A superb article, I’d seen it earlier on yesterday (thanks Grizwald Grim   ) and planned on writing a summary and then got caught up with other stuff. The comments on communities and size are particularly interesting: “Unlike networks if communities don’t stop growing, they’ll die” I think this is very true regarding the Google + communities (how many carelessly went frantically gathering numbers) and perhaps also true to some extent about the larger Google + community itself. 

  15. I really enjoyed this article. Sometimes I feel like I am part of a couple of small communities, and other times not as much. I enjoy helping people but do have a stigma attached to asking for much help, which can alienate me from people who really do care.

    This article also allowed me to contemplate why I choose to not be a part of a network or even a community that has invited me. Although the community may be supporting each other in a balanced fashion, there have been a couple communities that I have avoided because their support wasn’t a match to my values.

    It has also got me thinking about the “false” communities of MLM businesses and how they exploit that feeling of “belonging” …but with a price.

    Thank you again, Gideon.

  16. That’s so, so true, Eileen O’Duffy. Our Good Business community ended up getting featured a year ago and it flooded the community with a bunch of people with only a tangential interest in the real topic. Conversation quickly turned to spam fighting. Finally, I had to ask around to see if we could get us un-featured by Google. The flow stopped but the damage was done. It’s been a real struggle to get back that original feeling of a proto-community that was starting to gel there. 

  17. Gideon Rosenblatt Thanks for sharing this and starting a spin-off conversation—one of the advantages of G+ over some other structures. I follow John Verdon but missed his post. And the network “vs.” community discussion (quotes deliberate, ha ha) is right up my alley. I’ll share this with my Technology & Society students in the fall.

  18. George Station Thanks for the ping on your share of this post at

    I’m intrigued by this piece because I think the authors have a really important point, but I also think they have a deep misunderstanding of networks.  More precisely, I think they’ve conflated networks (which are large and need to grow, but are NOT hierarchically organized) with something else that needs its own label.  A 20th-century-style, hierarchically-governed corporation (or, for that matter, the kind of “factory-model” school district that I frequently blog about), the kind where the thermostat for the Oklahoma store is centrally managed in New Jersey, is not the same thing as the decentralized, self-governing 21st-century-style network in which we’re currently participating.  Neither the hierarchy nor the network is a (local, place-based) community, but that doesn’t mean the hierarchy and the network are the same thing.

    To quote my former student of many years ago, “Do you mean to tell me that Latin and Greek is not the same thing?”  After twenty-five of us had picked our jaws up off the floor, we (or at least I) eventually realized that U wasn’t asking a totally ridiculous question.  After all, Latin and Greek are both languages, both have influenced us profoundly, etc.  In some ways they are “the same thing.”

    But they aren’t.  And a hierarchy isn’t a network.  That was my main issue with the piece.

  19. Yes, Justin Schwamm, that was the part of this piece that didn’t resonate as well for me. There are a couple places that it touches on this notion of top-down structure in networks, but here’s the biggie: 

     Networks are typically artificial; they rarely form organically. And they’re invariably created, and then governed, in a top-down fashion. Policies and regulations are decreed from on high with little or no input from the majority of the people who make up the network. Because those at the top are so removed physically and psychologically from those at the bottom, the solutions ultimately proffered are often out of touch and highly ineffective.

    When I first read this piece, I think I interpreted it as being more about the kinds of power curve distortions that we often see in networks, but re-reading it, I’m not sure that’s what the focus is. There definitely are hierarchies that emerge when you look deeply at the structure of networks, but they’re not the kinds of hierarchies that you find on simple org charts. They’re much more complicated and have more to do with the number of and nature of the connections that nodes in the network have. 

    Love that Greek and Latin quote, by the way. 

  20. Gideon Rosenblatt I’m glad you love the Greek and Latin quote.  Sometimes I wonder if poor U, bless her heart, remembers it as well as I do after all these years.

    The place you quote was the part that bothered me the most, too.  I’m thinking of my PLN here on G+ as a network, or even possibly a network of networks.  While the platform was certainly “created … in a top-down fashion” by the programmers at Google, the network itself wasn’t.  It formed … if not organically, then as close to that as you can come.  It certainly isn’t governed hierarchically, nor are there policies or regulations decreed (by me? by the Powers That Be? by whom??) with no input from me, you, Laura Gibbs, George Station, etc.

    I do see your point about complex hierarchies deep in the structure of a network, but even those don’t emerge from “on high,” do they?

    I would really like to know how the authors define a network and what they’d think of our definition.

  21. It’s been so long since I read this at this point, Bernard Vatant​, I just don’t remember if that was the point the author was making. It would seem strange to recommend belonging to just one community though…

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