“Community” and “communication” sound so much alike that we’re often shocked when we rediscover how ill-suited either one really is in driving the other. Part of the problem is that communication thrives on simplicity, whereas the best communities emerge from a messy morass. Communication is best when it’s linear, and, at most, two-way; community is multiphasic and multidirectional. Communication is (occasionally creative) order; community is (mostly controlled) chaos. What the two have in common is the frequency of failure—though for opposite reasons: Community withers from too little activity; communication gets bollixed up when there’s too much. But the hidden value of social media is that it somehow manages to empower both. Communication enabled by social technologies is nothing short of revolutionary, with innovative tools and channels appearing with startling regularity. The new communities we’ve seen thus far, though, are generally more evolutionary—like-minded people gravitating to each other as they always have, the only difference being that now neighborhood sewing circles and local hobbyists are no longer restricted by geography.
Well, maybe that’s not the only difference. The barrier to entry has been lowered for communities, and as a result we’ve been creating, joining, signing up for, friending, and otherwise connecting with communities at a pace more frenetic than ever before. With so many slivers of ourselves—and so many slivers of each customer—on display, we run the risk of developing multiple personality disorders. Think of today’s communities as Segmentation 2.0—opt-in segments that are self-aware, and that know when they’re being targeted.
The communities in this issue are internal and external, controlled by companies and independent of them. But these communities are communicating, and that’s saying something.