Cluetrain Community

by

If the last reading introduced the idea of having a voice through the Internet, I think this week’s reading emphasizes a bigger picture: being part of a community. Poet John Donne famously wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” In the context of the Internet, it’s fine if you have your own Web page, for instance, but if nobody visits it and contacts you through it (in other words, if no one interacts with you), does it really mean anything?

Some quotes from Chapter 3 stand out to me. For instance, Rick Levine writes, “One definition of community is a group of people who care about each other more than they have to. This isn’t a business exchange, even more remotely. It is conversation, the verbal glue binding people separated by geography into a community.” This quote comes from the section about chat, but I think it applies to on-line communication in general. I’ve used the Internet for years, but the idea of communicating with people from around the world without leaving my chair still amazes me.

This on-line communication creates a sense of community. For instance, I like that Saturn car example from the newsgroups section of Chapter 3. It illustrates how people can give advice and help each other out- even if they have never met in person. Levine writes, “This conversation wasn’t simply a business correspondence. It was among lots of people, ordinary folks. These people are writing in their own voices because they want to talk, to help, to contribute. If it’s not altruism, it’s something close to it.” I like how he includes the phrase “ordinary folks” because it shows that you don’t necessarily need a title (in this case, to be a Saturn employee) to contribute something to the conversation. Although the Internet can be used deceitfully, it can also be used honorably. People didn’t have to respond to Ross’ problem with Saturn, but some people did, even though they didn’t have a vested interest in the matter. I observe a lot of this on-line “altruism” at the message board that I participate in, such as sending condolences to a member who lost a parent or suggesting U.S landmarks to an Aussie who’s planning a trip with her husband. These examples illustrate Levine’s defintion of voice: “people channel from their hearts directly to their words.”

However, these on-line conversations, especially in the business world, need to have authentic human voices. Doc Searls and David Weinberger note in Chapter 4 that PR is often seen as a synonym for BS. Advertising isn’t much of an improvement. When researching a product or finding information about a movie or television show, I enjoy reading reviews. I’m not just talking about reviews from professional critics for a publication or Web site, though. If possible, I try to read reviews from fellow consumers (or, should I say, fellow human beings). I like reading customer reviews because I can receive insight from an average Joe or Jane who has already purchased the product or seen the film. Writing a review for a Web site is a contribution and can lead to conversations. For instance, at Amazon.com, people can rate whether a certain customer review is helpful or not. Recently, I noticed that people can also comment on other people’s reviews and start threads in discussion boards for products. On one hand, people are expressing themselves and using their voices by writing reviews. On the other hand, “the community” can benefit from them.

Chapter 5 mentions a literal, if not exactly tangible, form of connection: hyperlinks, which connect Web pages (and people) together as part of the World Wide Web. Before reading about this, I had never considered hyperlinks as revolutionary, but David Weinberger put them in a different light for me. In relation to hyperlinks, he sometimes mentions the Web, which is an appropriate word. Just like a spider weaving strands of silk together to create its web, with hyperlinks we too weave a web, tangled or otherwise- the traditional sense of hierarchy and order is not necessary. After all, this is a community. To continue the rest of Donne’s poem, “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

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