Communities, shared spaces and weblog reading
To start with - a piece from my comments to Blogs and CoPs: Can blogging replace communities of practice? (scroll to find)
For me (please forgive simplification) the essence of a community is in a sense of belonging and practices that its members share. I can understand that it's hard to believe looking at loosely-coupled weblogs "out there" that their authors belong to a community, but I can not discard my own feeling of "belonging" as well as indications of many other bloggers saying that weblogs help to build relations and shared understanding and to engage into reflective conversations.
I've been thinking on it for a while and trying to articulate my ideas about community clue in case of weblogs to a few people in Nürnberg and Lisbon... One more attempt.
Elmine Wijnia talks about weblogs as communication hub (also here) to find others and connect with them. I think weblogs do a bit more - they provide shared thinking space. I know that it's hard to believe that many individual weblogs, even linked, can provide a shared space, but it feels like that (and I tend to trust my feelings :)))
For me the closest metaphor is a city, a shared living space. Usually we don't know many others in our neighbourhood, but we walk on the same streets every day, see the same familiar strangers, get wet under the same rain, miss the same bus... We have a lot of context to share and meeting each other abroad we will connect easily. Living in a same city creates a sense of belonging and a sense of community...
Weblogs do as well. Of course, not for everyone (as in a city, you may not feel it). I was thinking what creates such shared context in case of weblogs. I guess it's weblog reading.
I'm thinking about my own weblog ecosystem. We don't read same weblogs, but they are interconnected, so at the end we get exposed to similar names, events, ideas, books. For example, once you get into KM blogging, you will quickly learn about wikis, join Orkut or find out who Dave Pollard is. Our experiences of blogging are never the same, like experiences of living on different streets, but in some cases they overlap enough to create a feeling of sharing the same space.
I think that those "some cases" of overlapping weblog experiences have to do with several things: density of a network, speed of ideas travelling around and time that one devotes to reading weblogs of others. The last one is important: getting to know your community takes time and you will never connect with a city when you jump in and out of a tourist bus.
I'm getting more and more convinced that when introducing someone to blogging the most important thing is to help newcomer to start feeling rhythms of blogging cities: getting a map for an orientation, learning basic terms to find a way around, finding good guides (blogs to start reading), taking time to explore and soak...
I'm playing with a "city" metaphor to explain blogging... I'm thinking of RSS as public transport lines - they take you faster where you have to be, but you miss little secrets on a way. And about risks of generalising in weblog research when one studies only specific communities (think of aliens making their opinions about humans based on their study of New York ;)
I guess it's time to dive a bit deeper into research on cities (thinking of Emergence on self-organisation of cities, William H. Whyte’s theory of triangulation, and may be even connecting with A city is not a tree).
So, may be at the end we can find out if and when weblogs can turn into a knowledge spaces...
This post also appears on channel BlogWalk