[Air-l] Re: Company vs. Community

Steve Jones sjones at uic.edu
Tue Dec 18 11:55:28 PST 2001

My own introduction to the points Bram makes came when I saw that 
Hegel and Armstrong made use of some of my work in their "Net Gain" 
book. That in turn prompted me to take a look at early online 
communities such as the WELL, and it was mighty interesting to 
uncover some of the seemingly commercial motives involved in those. 
There's a rather interesting history there that I've brought up in 
some subsequent work. There are also some companies, like the 
Chicago-based Participate.com, that exist to "create" communities on 
intranets for corporations and other organizations.

What particularly intrigues me isn't so much the division, if there 
is one, between community and commerce, as the difficulty at 
identifying the ends to which community participation might be put. 
If we consider knowledge management, data mining, and other means of 
"extracting" information from discourse, as one means by which 
commerce and community commingle, we'd be remiss if we didn't 
recognize that scholars participate in similar behavior when they do 
ethnographies of online groups (as one example). To put that another 
way, perhaps another, complementary, approach to take to untangle 
some of these issues is to try to define what we mean by "commerce." 
In a sense members of a community "profit" from membership. I find it 
interesting that the nature of that "profitability" is so variable 
among members, however.

And yet, when I bring that up, I'm aware, and worried, of bringing to 
bear entirely economic analyses of community, which, even though it 
may exist within the sphere of economics, is again not necessarily 
valued only, or even mainly, for its economic potential. To try to 
put it yet another way, what has motivated me for years to study 
community is to learn how it is valued, by members and non-members 


At 1:30 PM -0500 12/18/01, Bram Dov Abramson wrote:
>dsilver at u.washington.edu wrote:
>>But it seems to me that one of the most common
>>(and nefarious depending where you stand on the issue) developments in
>>mainstream cyberculture during, say, 1997 - 2000 has been the
>>commercialization of online communities.  Is it just me or does it appear
>>to the rest of you that the folks at Amazon, Yahoo, and
>>fill-in-the-blank.com have been reading Howard Rheingold?
>Not the commercialization of online communities, but the 
>constitution of online communities inside commercial space.  The 
>Amazon community, or eBay community, etc didn't exist prior to 
>Amazon or eBay and then become commercialized via Amazon's or eBay's 
>behaviour.  Rather, Amazon and eBay produced communities as 
>commercial commodities.
>As commercial commodities, those communities had quantitative value: 
>they were translated directly into dollar figures by equities 
>analysts as a way of valuating the company's worth on the market. 
>Which, in turn, provided incentive for this activity.
>The assumption that communities and commerce exist in an agonistic 
>relationship is problematic.  They don't, necessarily.  The drive to 
>build community is as native to commercial activity as it is to 
>non-commercial zones, Howard Rheingold notwithstanding.  (Heck, just 
>look to what radio folks call the golden age of radio.)
>So, rather than fall into that can of worms, maybe it is better to 
>talk about communal ties outside commercial enterprise in a 
>normative way, ie as a Good Thing.  What are the implications for 
>the Internet when commercial enterprise expends the most resources 
>on community-building?  What are the different ways in which 
>community can cohere (and does cohere) inside commercial spaces, and 
>what are the implications of these different kinds of 
>community-building? etc.
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