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Why do people join communities?

June 23, 2010

(This is another post inspired by “Cognitive Surplus”, by Clay Shirky, possible Arsenal fan.)

Why do people join communities? First of all, we’re a really social people. The title of this blog is “people like to share” because I think people like to share. Both online and offline.

We’ve always joined things. From being ‘fans’ of teams, to joining actual teams to play sports. From book clubs to block clubs, to Chambers of Commerce, we like joining things in real life because we’re social animals.

So when people ask “why do people join communities” like Wikipedia, World of Warcraft, Facebook or YouTube (and everything in between), they conveniently ignore human history and the desire to join things. To them, joining Facebook is different to joining a Chamber of Commerce. To me, it’s the same thing.

And while we’re on what people ignore, something continues to bug me. When I talk to people about social media, they often give me two reason why they aren’t engaging in the aforementioned communities.

1. I don’t have time.

2. I spend all day looking at a computer screen, so I don’t want to look at one at home.

The problem with these tow things is that these people go home and watch TV. They don’t have time because they give so much time to Law and Order repeats. Oh, and TV is a screen.

But I digress.

This is supposed to be a list of the reasons why people who aren’t watching TV join communities. Here they are.

1. On the aggregate, we’re all deeply passionate about massively unique things. I’m a fan of Arsenal, Tom Robbins, and eating well.

2. The cost of finding other people who share my quirks is almost nothing. It’s access to the internet, which 2 billion people currently have (3 billion have cell phones). Finding and joining communities is so easy – I am a lurker in an Arsenal community, and I used to be a really active member in a Tom Robbins Usenet group. The internet lets us find our peeps. (Interestingly, Facebook lets us find people who are connected based on geography. They are working hard to connect us based on our likes.)

3. Passion. Often, passion comes from the uniqueness of the things we like. I once found an electric razor hall of fame online started by someone who is really passionate about electric razors.

4. People are free in communities to talk about anything. We have a client with a Facebook page. On that page, people talk about the brand, but they also talk about their personal life, things happening in the world, and other tertiary topics that we would have never predicted. When a community is be free to talk about things that are outside the community, they will have found a home.  Rules about content should be minimal, when they are, the people will police the community (see Wikipedia).

My next post will be more like #4. A few hard fast rules that I think apply to people joining communities.

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