Who owns a community? The URL owner who made the financial investment and created it? The administrative team who runs it, creating the culture and policies? Or the regular commenters on the site who come back time and again to the discussion? Is the answer somewhere between all of these?
An interesting parallel could be drawn to the church. Who “owns” the church? The founder, Joseph Smith? The current church leadership? The members? How we answer this question colors our experience with the church in a marked way and impacts our satisfaction with our church experience. I would hypothesize that those who consider the church to be the members are more likely to find satisfaction. Consider the following variations:
- Founder. If you love the founder, but dislike current leadership or the members, where are you supposed to hang out? At a tombstone? Reading books from the past? Life and community are always going to be more compelling than dusty history for those who occasionally surface to engage IRL.
- Likewise, if you came to the blog because you loved the founder, but you don’t like the current permas or the commenters, that’s not going to be enough reason to stick around.
- What would happen if Joseph Smith showed up at Church HQ? Would he take over? Or would he not have special privilege because it was no longer his time? I for one, would expect some serious ID in this situation. But I’m not convinced the church would immediately give him the corner office either. And that’s probably for the best.
- Church Leadership. If you love the current direction the church is heading, but you aren’t crazy about some of the founder’s direction (e.g. polygamy, racism, or whatnot), you’re probably in better shape than someone who yearns for a lost past.
- If you came to the blog because you enjoyed the bloggers, that’s actually pretty compelling. It would be enough to bring you back to discussions you enjoy and bloggers whose OPs you like. But if you don’t enjoy the community and the ensuing discussions, you might only lurk.
- Membership. If you have some issues with the direction the leadership is headed, but the members you interact with frequently are people you like and who like you, people you enjoy spending time with, whom you trust and love, you’re much more likely to stay in that community. Personally, I think this is the most basic disconnect people can’t abide in the church. They might leave if they don’t like the founder or the leadership, but it will be much harder to leave on those grounds unless they also dislike the members. On a blog (as at church) this usually manifests in a few ways:
- Cliquishness. You might just feel like nobody would notice whether you are there or not, like there is an “in club,” and you don’t belong.
- Not fitting in. You might feel the conversation goes over your head, or that it’s beneath you. Either of these makes you want to go away and find a place you do fit in.
- Trolls. You might dislike some outspoken individuals who come in to ruin the party for everyone with their outlandish, judgmental or just plain weird nonsense. For the record, at W&T we prefer to make the blog more like church–crazies and all!
So what is a group blog? Is it a community? A canvas waiting for the artist’s brush? An empty room waiting for people to make it come to life? A place where everybody knows your (fake) name? What is it to you? Discuss.