Communities are Much More Than a Place

I’ve been guilty of this several times over, but its easy to fall into the Field of Dreams Syndrome (FoDS) by focusing on the construction of the place (“build a virtual community and they will come”). I’ve rambled before about this, that if you look at real communities of people, it is just more than the coors of the walls they hang out at; and I remain firmly convinced that we under-focus on the social aspects of the “community” and over-focus on the place.

So last Thursday I was in a meeting, and missed the big webcast launch of the Apple Digital Campus Exchange. Look at all the things the “place” required– registering in advance, downloading a special application (cast stream), logging in at a set time. I arrived a little over an hour late and must have missed the show:


As you can see, I actually left it open the rest of the afternoon and never got a thing. I could not even tell what this application does.

It must have gone well from the opinion of the organizers; they congratulated themselves on having over 1000 people register; yet according to s snapshot view of “who’s online” September 15, the maximum as about 40 minutes into the webcast was a whopping 30 people, and I bet at least 1/3 were ones involved with the event. Woohoo.


And the archive is where? I thought my email said it would be available in a week (?) the folks at Learningtimes (which provides live web activities that play in an ordinary browser) have audio archives available immediately after an event!

Just to show that I too can throw stones at my own glass houses, in September 2004, we scheduled a live “virtual” kickoff for our new Ocotillo groups; we had some pre-recorded video greetings, and held discussion boards open for a week. The level of response and participation was negligible, and we too had a taste of FoDS. In our subsequent asynchronous events that year, we learned how critical it was to have some very structured processes for these events, and that it took a lot of legwork to get people “in”.

So am I chewing bad Apples just beause I do not agree with their methods of requiring logins to read ADCE blogs? Maybe.

But I just did some checking to see the ripples this event had across the net. It is barely discernible. Googling “+ADCE webcast” found one other blog that referenced this event. Technorati tag on ADCE brings up a whole lot of irrelevant things in other languages, and a few announcements from participants. Over at Feedster? Nada much except D’Arcy Norman picking up on the complaint cycle of the walled gardens. There are no sites tagged adce in del.icio.us (of course no one in their right mind would tag a closed web site). There’s diddly squat in Furl. ADCE is zero for Bloglines.

The regular signposts of the internet really do not register this is even happening– it is so far down the Long Tail, it is humped by the curve and neighbors to things like the 19th Century Peruvian Belly Lint Collectors Society or the Fred Thompson Colostomy Photo Blog site.

It could/should be said I am being a hard head about Apple (“it’s brand new, and will evolve”) and yes, they are reacting somewhat to our requests to make the blogs public to read (not yet though). But they seem to be chasing the cluetrain, not driving it. No, I could not write this inside their community because it might be construed as “Anti-Apple”. Yes, I am trying to stir up the pot…

Once again- communities, online or real world, do not happen because you build a place– they happen because there is a place and compelling, social reason to be in that place. And if you do build they place, it ought to be open and free of special requirements to access it. In fact, in the ideal community, the place become transparent, faded to the background, to the activity that goes on there.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Hi Alan:

    I’ve read your blog (and subscribed to your feed) for quite a while. I’m also involved in the Apple Digital Campus Exchange web site (as “gallery moderator”), so I have read your recent posts about Apple’s new ADCE site with interest… and a bit of concern. In the interest of sharing information and perhaps understanding the issues a bit better, I hope you’ll accept some feedback on your posts.

    While Apple has a central role in enabling this “community” and has put a lot of resources into making it work, I don’t think it would be imagine that Apple is forcing this community into existence. It truly has been a collaboration between some very good people at Apple and a number of us in higher education who welcome the opportunity to work with Apple. In fact, a real community has come into existence as this project as evolved – small at this point but, I am certain, growing.

    As I’m sure you understand, it is not always possible or even a good idea to wait for something to be perfect before moving forward. I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve seen go nowhere because those involved were not willing to release it into the wild until everything was perfect. My philosophy with a project like this one is that it is better to get something out there now and learn from it than to wait to make it perfect… and miss the opportunity to learn from feedback.

    The participants in this project recognize that it requires constant evaluation and course correction, quite a bit of which has taken place during the past few weeks – and much of which addresses points you raise.

    While I”m writing, I hope you’ll welcome a bit of fact-checking regarding your post.

    One key reason that the webcast was a “time and place” based event was that live interaction was a key part of it. As the event unfolded we took questions by phone, email, IM from those who were watching. This was not just a canned presentation.

    Like you, I wish that the archived version had been made available more quickly. However, it I understand that it should be available in about one week at the ADCE site.

    The 1000 registrations you refer to are, I believe, registrations for the ACDE site – not necessarily registrations for the webcast. It appeared that up to 100 people were watching the webcast stream during the webcast. By no means were all of them also connected via IM.

    The “walled garden” issue is tricky. There is certainly a strong sentiment on the part of higher education people I’ve heard from that they would like to see more of the ADCE site open to unregistered visitors. I think we have made some progress on this front and I’m hopeful that we’ll make more as we – and Apple – learn from this experience.

    There are good people at Apple and in higher education working to make this community a success. I hope you’ll stick with us as the ADCE goes through these initial growing pains.

    Take care,

    Dan Mitchell

  2. Thanks Dan,

    I appreciate the comments, corrections, and grounding and apologize as none of my wild spews are delivered to hurt individuals I respect. I am more than willing and interested to wait and see how it all evolves, but am always hungry for more back and forth communication.

    Time always tells. and yes, communities evolve.

Comments are closed.