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Day 1, Post 1, Global Information Industry Summit

“How do we do a better job of incorporating Web 2.0 tools into our traditional platforms?” asked Matthew Hong, vice president and general manager of Open Web Markets at Gale during an interview at the Global Information Industry Summit this morning. How many times have we all heard that question? How many times has anyone given a straight answer to it?

Regretfully, I can’t claim that we answered it at the earlier “From Network to Community” session. We tried to cover too much – hardly a surprise, given the subject – and were klutzy with the PowerPoint. But I’m told that our fumbling at least kept people awake, and the avatar that Kate Noerr had created (all by herself) to do some of the presentation was certainly a hit.

Web 2.0 is shorthand for technologies that promote contributions and amendments or that allow individuals to create their own spaces, networks, and content. These technologies are also grouped under the phrase “social media,” because they are all interactive in some way. The biggest mistake we make is not seeing them in logical groupings based the kinds of interaction or relationship they foster. All these technologies are interactive, but they are not all geared to communities, or community building. The mantra “blogs, wikis, RSS, and podcasts” makes about as much sense as saying “hamburgers, balsamic vinegar, green beans, and gefilte fish” as a summary of American food.

Many companies, including many in publishing, are talking about “community” – instead f groups or networks or customers or markets –  and I thought the panel would be a chance to dissect the concept of community in a way that would enable companies to make more nuanced choices about the technologies to experiment with, starting with a question that is blindingly obvious and yet seems rarely to be asked: Is there a community here already that we’re trying to tap into, or make ourselves part of? Or are we trying to create a community where one doesn’t exist now, in order to meet a need we’ve identified?

What makes something a community? I’d argue that a community must have multiple and overlapping ties between members, common values or interests, a sense of trust and reciprocity, and persistence over time. A community takes time to develop, and if it’s really a community it will take on a life of its own, even if it needs moderation and leadership in order to achieve the goals of the company that has cultivated it.

More to come . . . time to start getting ready for my China panel, and to turn over the power outlet to one of my pals!

PS: Some of us are talking about a forming a Down With PowerPoint Community. We might even have special stickers for our conference badges next year.

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