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The Undefinable Word: Community

One of my new favorite quotes goes like this:

“Men like to substitute words for realities and talk about the words.�? So said radio pioneer Edwin Armstrong.

What makes me say this is the interesting and well-informed discussion occurring at the newish blog at Corante called Brandshift. The post is called “What is community�? and it has set off a great discussion about the word and its implications, with my home boy Jake McKee leading the charge. See his follow-ups one and two.

UPDATE: I meant to include that Jennifer Rice, someone that sat in front of me at the Blog Business Summit, posted the original entry. Oh, and I meant to trackback too.

Reading the comments, there were about 1 million things I wanted to say, none of them really capturing what I really wanted to say. In the end I came to terms with the fact that the word “community�? is nearly impossible to define accurately and working to do so is futile (at least for me).

The problem with the word “community�? is that it’s a word that describes a reality that cannot be shared by everyone. Community means something different to nearly every person and changes based on context. To make matters worse, in business, “online community�? often means “something we tried in 1998 that didn’t work.�?

I think “community�? is a worthy goal, but most businesses will be better served to focus on how appropriate social tools (message boards, blogs, wikis, etc.) can be used to serve customer needs without worrying about “community�? per se. Community will come in due time.