Can the Web Be a Community?

Blogspotting asks today if the lack of a community mindset might make it hard for the citizen media movement to take hold in the sprawling metropolitan areas many of us live in.

The question originated from Amy Gahran’s conversation about whether the lack of a broad community mindset with respect to the Bay Area might have contributed to Bayosphere’s demise.

Amy makes some good points. One of them, via a conversation she had with a friend from the Bay Area:

My colleague, who lives in the Bay Area, observed that in that region there’s virtually no awareness of the Bay Area as a community. People there, he said, tend to be more aware of and engaged with their towns or neighborhoods, not the “Bay Area.”

I expect that sort of thing is true for a lot of people. I live in Houston, but not really. Although I live barely 8 miles from downtown, I live in a town called Bellaire. My kids go to school there. They play sports there. The places we eat and the places we shop are there. Most of our friends live there.

I care about Houston, but I care a lot about Bellaire.

But I think the internet and the citizen media that’s a part thereof should be looked at from a different angle.

When I read and talk about tech, music or current events, it is the opportunity to converse with people from all over the world that drives me to the internet. I think the internet in general and the blogosphere in particular have to develop community awareness around topics, as opposed to geography.

I read Dwight Silverman‘s blog every day. Not because he lives in Houston, but because he writes well on topics that interest me. Similarly, I read Ed Bott every day for the same reason, and I don’t even know where he lives. Many of the folks I converse with on a regular basis are from Canada or the UK.

So for me the question becomes can we build cross-blog communities (not to be confused with clubs where you have to be invited to join) based on shared interests? I hope so, but candidly I’m not sure.

I talked about message boards the other day and explained why I think they are still relevant. The main reason is because there is more immediate give and take on active message boards. There are actual conversations you can follow as they meander around the topic.

It’s harder to do that with blogs. A lot of times it seems like bloggers are just talking over or at each other. To converse you have to listen. I don’t know how we do it, but we have to figure out how to stop talking at each other and start talking to (and listening to) each other.

Otherwise we’re just noise.