Which comes first... the container, conduit or community?

I’ve been thinking a lot about community, containers and conduit. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it ever since I heard Howard Rheingold’s opening keynote at Internet Librarian two weeks ago in Monterey. Howard (Smart Mobs author) offered up a lot of great thoughts on collective action, co-creation of knowledge, and technologies as community enablers. But what surprised me most was the last few slides he ended on, or rather I should say, the final technology website he pointed us to, - a "free and open-source web service that provides teachers and learners with an integrated set of social media" tools for creating community around classroom curriculum.

As soon as Howard unveiled this new free portal (which I have to admit, does in fact look and sound like a pretty awesome set of tools for educators) my brain started spinning and I quickly tweeted this NTS.

Howard's last slides got me wondering ... why after just guiding us through a great talk about all these ideas about unstructured co-creation and self-assembling collectives, did he end by focusing/showcasing a new community “container” instead of focusing on the conduit connectors of self-forming communities? The answer in my mind is a little bit rhetorical… it’s because our definition of community is still rooted by the “container” and containers are much easier to build then connections.

Connections are made and enabled through conduit. Conduit by its definition is a “channel through which something (as a fluid) is conveyed.” It’s what enables connections to be made regardless of the container type. And, it’s really what enables online communities to form and gain momentum as connections are made across “containers” between different members’ “community containers” of choice. Therefore in trying to create online communities for libraries ( or any other organization for that matter) does it make more sense to focus our resources, time and effort on trying to create “new containers” for communities to assemble in, or does it make more sense to focus our efforts on creating “connecters” that enables community building to transcend and bridge across “container” boundries?

As you might be able to see, I’ve been fumbling around with this thought for awhile now trying to sort out something cohesive enough to post out here on blog. Although I don’t have my thoughts sorted out just yet (although I’ve made a first attempt here), I’m really curious about anyone else’s thoughts to this question … “Is a “container” required/necessary to create an online community?” and if not, “then what/where is the best way/place to start?”

Anyone got any thoughts?


Matt said...

Great questions, thoughts and pondering, for this concept consumes much of my interest and thinking as well. I know that in my recent studies, which are somewhat outside of the realm of libraries, I'm coming to ask how community happens, truly happens, outside of real relationship. Because I don't think that it can. If it does or can it isn't the kind of community that most of us have in mind or wish to facilitate/create for our various interests (libraries, churches, schools, etc.).

For me the conduit is through mutual respect as we enter into the expectation of community. Within community what typically forms that holds individuals together is some form or shape that resembles relationship building. So, I guess my two cents would be relationship, for in relationship with others or another we are co-creators together of that which builds between us.

Cycho Librarian said...

It seems to me that the way things have been working over the past 5-8 years is that the communities are growing organically out of a wide variety of containers. The trick is that there's no predicting which container is going to sprout a community. For example, about 5 years ago my stepdaughter started using Xanga, as that was the container of choice among her community. Eventually that was replaced by MySpace, and then currently by Facebook.

The point is that unless we create new containers, we have no idea what's going to work. We have to be prepared to invest a fair amount of time and energy into new containers on the off chance that they might sprout a community. Fortunately, this far along we have some indicators of what might work from the various successes. Containers that are more open, less restrictive, allow personalization, promote connections, have fun benefits, etc., are more likely to succeed. But at the end of the day the perfect container might not work because there's no community ready to use it.

Which brings me to a final point of contention. Is there really a difference between containers and conduits? Really, all these containers are just conduits for people to connect. Maybe rather than containers, they're nexuses or eddies in the conduits that connect individuals.