Trust and the Currencies of Community

James Sherrett at WorkIndustries wrote a thoughtful email in response the my post on online community currency...

My $0.02 is that to talk about communities and currencies is to mix metaphors. Currencies are more applicable to markets and networks than communities. Communities thrive on trust, which is a human element that I don't think we'll ever be able to replicate in a scalable system.

I can see where James is coming from and, as I told him, I wish more people would question or challenge ideas like these. His email gave me a chance to think more about what I really mean by currency and why I think it's important. My reply to James is below.

This whole idea of currencies is new and I'm trying to figure it out myself. I get your point and it is well taken, but I think we're still talking about two different things. Or maybe it's macro vs. micro.

The service I'm hoping to provide is to help people think about the process of jump starting a new online community. In which case, I think there are ways to think (and talk) about the technology and the people that highlight some of the basic elements. One element that is undeniably important is participation - in order for the community to startup, people have to have a way to participate. Now, historically, this meant discussion. Online Community and discussion were often inseparable - people exchanged thoughts, ideas, arguments in the from of online discussion. These days though, that has changed - there are a number of ways to participate and "currency" is one way to describe these new and different modes of participation.

Agreed, trust is what makes communities work (and I don't think either of us want to get into a debate on defining "community"). However, I see trust as the end, while I'm focusing on the means to that end. Yes, successful communities thrive on trust. But, what comes before that? How does trust develop? It happens through consistent interactions. It happens through exchange. When I talk about currency, I'm referrring to the basic unit of exchange that has to be in place to 1) Bring people together 2) enables them to exchange something (participate) so that they may have the opportunity to develop into a trusting community.

By listing all the tools and services, I mean to highlight that there are new opportunities to bring people together and offer them a way to interact. Instead of discussion, people can exchange photos, videos, tags, bookmarks, etc. These are the new currencies of online communities.

I don't know if this further proved your point or explained the difference, but I always enjoy the discussion. I'd love to hear your thoughts, here or on your blog. Thanks.