Guest Post, courtesy of Stan Faryna
Stan Faryna is a daddy, tech and design industry entrepreneur, social entrepreneur, author, blogger, design wonk, and former national Director of IAB Europe. His blog is here: http://stanfaryna.wordpress.com
A Bigger Picture of Online Community
Philosophical reflections may or may not appeal to you. Beyond the question of appeal, should be the question of relevance. Here, in Part One, I reflect philosophically about the online community because any influencer or would-be influencer must understand what community is about and how it’s must provide structure for human behavior and action toward common goods.
In generic terms, we need communities (and each other) to succeed on the social web. Jon Buscall wrote a passionate blog post about the subject here:
If you are an American, you know that the Founding Fathers launched “the American Experiment” with considerable deep think, passionate argument, and commitment to dialogue. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to its success.
If you are not an American, the work and story of the men that founded the United States of America serves as lessons in community-building as much as nation-building.
They are history-makers and giants as tall as ibn Khaldun, Aristotle, Aquinas, Churchill, Confucius, Einstein, Gandhi, Heidegger, Martin Luther King Jr., Newton, Nietzsche, and Wojtyla – just to name a few that immediately come to my mind.
This three part series of blog posts is not about giants. It is about online community, why it is relevant, how to build it, and what we can hope to gain by building communities. I am asking you, the reader, to consider the bigger picture of community in Part One (this blog post) and to contribute to a thoughtful conversation in the comment section of this blog post. I also hope that you will follow up on the next two blog posts so that our conversation continues and builds into a conference of good will and commitment.
Expectations in Internet Communities
We all come to social media with expectations. Each of us, in fact, has great expectations. Each of us is ready to be pleasantly surprised (not mildly nor, God forbid, unhappily), for our hearts to be filled with thankfulness and lift. For our hearts to race like screaming engines on a Formula1 race track! Like gazelles leaping across the plain.
With ever more frequent occasion. We want it like moths seek the flame.
Each of us comes to the internet and social media with our own hopes and delusions. This is not easy street. Connections, for example, are not the hard and stable currency that we may have imagined. Community-building, on the other hand, may pay off. It depends on what pay off means to you. But not all communities are equal nor rewarding.
When we participate or build online communities, we are delighted when we discover there is much common ground between us and others, but there are also unspoken differences. The two are never more present when we exercise the greatest of our civil rights, the preservation of our dignity, freedom of speech, and to peacefully assemble in order to exchange and share ideas, affections, and assistance with one another.
Cornerstones of Community – Online and also Offline
Whatever expectations we may bring, however, must be subordinate and serve these cornerstones of community – online and offline. Because these rights are essential to the continuation, expression, and flourishing of our humanity and the communities to which we belong as members. Likewise, no right takes precedence over the other. Freedom of speech (even when we speak from our conscience), for example, must not prevail over our respect for the dignity of the human person.
It is easy to confuse these things when emotions run high. When we are tired because we have run a long race – most of us are still running because the finish line is nowhere in sight. When we are disappointed.
There are other challenges too.
Without a mission, a vision, community rules, defined expectations, a decision-making structure, and a decision-execution solution, a tribe cannot grow as a community. Without these rational assets, a community cannot effectively serve its membership. Nor can a community be organized to a common good – a common good which its members seek.
Having studied community development for decades, the Pew Partnership For Civic Change and the National Urban League put great emphasis on decision making and execution regarding the sustainability, growth, and success of communities. This may seem counter-intuitive to some. Rationality may not seem organic. But human beings are not to be compared to weeds. The green grass grows where it may and it withers away just as spontaneously without question, without crying outloud to heaven, and without fury.
Aspirations for Community Development
Broadly speaking, history teaches us that communities that build upon these cornerstones tend to thrive and grow into cities and, even, metropolises. Consider Amsterdam, Cairo, London, New York, Paris, Rome, San Francisco, any of modern metropolises. All had humble beginnings. Every modern metropolis represents generation after generation of investment, rational management and strategic development– sometimes a thousand or more years as in the case of Paris, Rome, and Cairo.
Community development projects in the last fifty years also provide us with lessons to consider when the cornerstones have been forsaken. For example, impoverished communities that lack rational assets, investment, and collaborative action perpetuate human problems, corruption and suffering. Bucharest, the Romanian capital, remains today but a poor memory of it’s glory at the turn of the 20th Century. Bucharest was once considered the little Paris of Eastern Europe.
Aspirations build wonders like the Hanging Gardens, the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, The American Experiment, The United Nations, The World Bank, and space-faring missiles that target planet-threatening asteroids many years away from striking. If online communities fail to aspire to drive progress and change, to establish a massive solidarity and deeper compassion for each other and the world, to unleash a world of we – then humanity has failed to make good use the greatest technology it has yet created.
If we fail to make history, the proliferation of greed, porn and poverty shall be the triumph and defeat of the dawn of the millennium.
Great Gamers are Social
It was the Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) that taught me that rational assets of community are unambiguous necessities for a thriving online community. The failure of Facebook games, however, also reminds me of the same. Facebook games do not support tribes and community building. In their race to throw up time-killers on Facebook, social game start ups like Zynga and Playdom decided trick out something like a social feeling. But in doing so, they discouraged authentic relationships.
The success of online communities, in other words, is dependent on whether or not tribes can mature into thriving, growing communities that are committed to actionable missions and visions. That, of course, requires leadership as Saul Fleischman writes about here. Only inviting people into the tribe as often happens in Triberr, however, is not true leadership – it’s recruitment. Recruitment is only one piece in the puzzle of leadership.
Leadership does not fall only upon the shoulders of men and women who were born of gods as Homer suggests. Leadership falls on our shoulders- ordinary members of the community. Our greatest heroes, in fact, are not born, they are ordinary men and women who overcame challenges through intelligence and fortitude, prudently navigated terrible risk and loss, seized unseen opportunities, AND generously shared the boons of their triumphs with their community, their people.
The example can be seen everyday in MMORPGs and online games such as World of Warcraft, Planeshift, and Travian.
Dreams of Building Together in a Community
As I first learned from my work in minority politics, leadership does not fall upon the shoulders on a single person; it must be carried on the shoulders of all the members of the community in one way or another. The task of recruitment, vision-building, and mission-execution must be shared by the members of the community. Martin Luther King, Jr. standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial shared a dream of justice and hope– it is a powerful moment.
But it is not powerful because one man dared to speak about a dream, it is powerful because it is a dream that includes us all. Because it is a dream that belongs to us all. Because it is a dream that we dream. Because it is a dream which many have endeavored, sacrificed, and dared to keep alive, realize, and make true.
Each of us yearns for great love. To give greatly. To feel strongly. To serve heroically. To be true. To live fully.
This is a dream that we all share as human persons. Each of us owes it to ourselves to serve this dream. To serve it heroically. And never has there been a greater opportunity for so many to serve this dream and make history. Together. As members of online communities. Together, we can do good. For ourselves, others, and the world at large.
But we will only succeed if we do it together.
Casual Collectives, Part Two (coming…)
As we observe in the world and with particular concern about the cause of economic and social failures, true leadership does not come from an office like the edicts of a king or oligarch. True leadership comes from the good will and commitment of acting persons and a participative community. The greatest of leaders and the best of offices are those that articulate, coordinate, this same good will and commitment to a common good.
What is the common good of an online community? What actions must we as individuals perform in order that our common pursuit be fruitful? What are the benefits and duties of membership?
These are the questions we must endeavor to find common answers in Part Two.
Please join us in two weeks at Yomar Lopez’s blog for Part Two. Yomar’s blog is here: http://yomar.me/
Stan Faryna is currently working on three projects:
1. A science fiction novel about the end of the world
2. A MMORPG
3. A community development project that will use citizen media to empower poor, rural communities https://www.changemakers.com/citizenmedia/entries/new-entry-137