Tuesday, May 29, 2007

building connections to build community

working in community, it's easy to get wrapped up in the technology, the measurements, the key performance indicators, the cost of doing, or not doing community...

when this happens, i find it helpful to take a step back and look at community from completely different perspectives. thankfully, i am able to complement my community work at microsoft with active civic involvement in the community with several local nonprofits. it just so happens, in the past month, I recently attended back to back retreats for two such organizations.

i won't get into the nitty gritty of each, but one common thread throughout both retreats was this notion of relationships between people. after all, what is community if not a series of intentional relationships with others?

To me, that is the core of what we do -- community building. Through our technology, we are building new ways for people to share their experiences with others in such a manner that this greater sense of self arises. No longer is it just an isolated experience of one person, but it's the experience of an individual that is then tied to the experiences of others. Experiences and content put forward by participants may match one to one the experiences of a good number of people. Likewise, the experiences of an individual may only be connected to a select few. Regardless of the total number of connections, the message is clear -- we are all in this together.

why bring this up? partly, it's front and center on my mind given how recent these retreats were. also, there has been a recent focus on this notion of measurements within the orgs i run. bob posted on this recently, and some of my earlier thoughts can be found here. another motivator is dave's recent musing on community, in addition to some recent readings for an advisory board on which I sit.

So pooling all of this together, I guess I am just struck with the fact that to really measure the impact of community, we need to understand and identify all the ways in which connections are formed with one another through the specific tools and services we offer. Sometimes this may exist within the confines of a particular venue, say a blog or a particular forum. Other times these connections occur through serendipitous discovery in tagging or social bookmarking. Once we are able to get a better grasp on all points of connection can we truly measure the full impact of community.

I fully realize that what is discussed above is not a simple, nor quick approach. Indeed, there is a lot that needs to be done to fully capture all of that information for current and future community solutions. This of course does not mean that we can't do our best to measure the impact as we go. As with anything, this is an iterative process that builds upon itself. It is my hope that through a greater understanding of how community is formed, will we really get a clear picture of the full impact of community.