Internet users contributing content can appear to be rather different tribes. There are the independent bloggers who are single voices loosely linked, and the hoards gathering together in forums and chat rooms. Then there are the social networkers using platforms that provide blogs and other facilities in one place - for example, ecademy for business and myspace for younger networkers.
It can be very confusing, particularly if you are trying to work out which way to go to help people talk or work together online.
Fortunate the professionals who work on these different models have generally resisted the sort of techie wars that can so easily develop, and this was very evident at tonight's meeting of emint, originally set up by online community managers. We had news that emint is formalising its constitution and making some close links with an organisation representing social networks. There may be funding in prospect. I think I got that right ... but this was maximum sociability in a Covent Garden pub, so we may have to wait for a more formal communique.
Meanwhile we had Nancy White, over from Seattle for a few weeks in the UK, directly addressing the question: "What happens when you talk about Blogs and Community in one breath?"
To quote from the invite "Nancy is an internationally recognised expert in understanding and practising online group facilitation of distributed work, learning and community groups - work which requires her to fluidly take on the roles of presenter, writer, teacher, coach, facilitator, and rapporteur." She knows the business. Until a few years ago she was in the "communities" tribe, and - she says - only took up blogging to demonstrate to herself that it wasn't much use. She found otherwise ... a few posts and she was overwhelmed with "welcome to the blogosphere" comments and links, making explicit a social network much wider than she expected.
Nancy says she currently sees three types of blog-based "communities":
- people who cluster, comment and blog around one strong voice - perhaps a political commentator
- bloggers with a shared passion who link to each other and operate as crowd. Apparently foodies are very strong online in the US.
- bloggers who use one multi-blog platform for their shared interest. Nancy gave the example of parents of premature babies sharing their stories at March of Dimes.
Nancy also threw in a a reference to the six non-exclusive functions of networks, drawn - I think - from the work of Richard Portes and Stephen Yeo. These are explained here as filter, amplify, Invest/provide, convene, build communities, and facilitate.
I had to leave part-way through the ensuing discussion, but it seemed to me that we were beginning to get some really useful ways of thinking about communities, networks, blogs in terms of what we hope that they will achieve.
Robin Hamman who co-organised the event with Lizzie Jackson, was wielding a serious microphone on behalf of Radio Five Live's Up all Night: pods and blogs so we may get a more definitive account of the evening. The main lesson from these occasions, of course, is that you can't do it all online. It takes networky people, a good venue and your networking juice of choice.
Why emint? Well, the first meeting was in The Mint.
Update: Robin Hamman has blogged the event here, and Lizzie Jackson has explained on the emint list that emint is indeed formalised in that it has a steering committee and constitution. Funding will be on the agenda at the next annual general meeting.
Nancy has now put up a full version of her talk, in five blog posts starting here and ending here.