Friends vs. Community

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So there’s this question bubbling over in social networking and social media that’s on the minds of engineers, entrepreneurs, demographers and account/brand/communications planners: What’s a friend and what’s a community?

The internet and the social web have flattened the world to the degree that language has allowed. (Language, a major usability problem.)  Let’s say you like the punk rock band X but your best friends don’t — you might have to go outside for X soul mates. To Des Moines, Jakarta, or just across the tracks.  These X-ophiles may be your people. Share your love. Be potential  friends.  But now they are just part of an un-gerrymandered community.

Google+ is working on this, allowing circles of people with common interests to become connected. But Pandora and Spotify are trying to do this with music, Artspace.com is trying to do it with art, Ology.com with millennials, and the list goes on and on.  For every topic there is an entrepreneurial with an idea and an answer.  And a VC behind them to feed the frenzy.  And I love it. I loved exchanging punk rock stories with a 20 something in Qatar. It wasn’t creepy, it was awesome.  The kid wasn’t a friend. The kid was part of a community of interest. Danah Boyd, the future CEO of Microsoft, is right about the web; it is an amazing tool, with the ability to harness and free all our positive and negative human energies. But the goods far outweigh the bads.

The debate and commercial applications surrounding what is a friend and what is a community will continue.  And evolve. Marketers and publishers who figure out the different and the byplay will build powerful, powerful things. You friend in the ether, Steve.  Peace!