[Air-l] Re: Company vs. Community

Bram Dov Abramson bda at bazu.org
Wed Dec 19 15:31:11 PST 2001

dsilver at u.washington.edu:
>  > 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.
>Ok, good point.  What's your take then on something like GeoCities or even
>Hot Mail?

I think I'd like to read someone's PhD thesis on either one.  Lots to 
explore. ;-)  A general comment, though, might be that the dot-com 
business model which underwrote the infusion of capital into both 
Hotmail and Geocities has its own specificity, and any look at how 
Hotmail or Geocities were designed to marshall communities would 
certainly be enriched by looking at them through that specificity.

I mean, Hotmail's garment-district-joke business model (so where do 
we make up the difference? volume!) is certainly a different way of 
gathering community than, say, Apple's: Guy Kawasaki may have been on 
the payroll for very specific reasons, but at the end of the day, 
Apple was looking at its profit and loss column -- not counting 
eyeballs or trying to convince analysts to valuate companies in new 

cnelson at comm.umass.edu:
>I think that personal/communal and commercial relationships do exist in an
>agonistic relationship for us *when we are aware that these two are being

Well, sometimes yes, sometimes no.  My point was really that there is 
no *necessarily* agonistic relationship: any bumping against each 
other is contingent, which is an important analytic distinction imho.

To follow on from the above: I use an Apple laptop, I am really happy 
about using it, I participate sporadically in communities built 
around being happy about it, and I'm fully aware that Apple goes out 
of its way to foster this and that generally there's lots of 
commercial stuff going on here.  It's not a problem for me.

On the other hand, I also have close friends who use Hotmail and live 
in countries whose regulatory environments make it way cheaper for us 
to communicate persistently by instant messaging than by telephone. 
Said friends are urging me to use Microsoft instant messaging 
software, because MS's Passport scheme is tying Hotmail and Instant 
Messager together in ways that make it easy for them to build chat 
circles around it.  More commercial stuff going on here, but here it 
is a problem for me because I don't really want to use Hotmail or MS 
Instant Messager (or whatever it's called) and, even if I did, I 
resent *having* to use it when an open standard is perfectly doable, 
in fact can be staved off only with effort.

Which is why I really like when Felix says:
>Perhaps another way to start a critical analysis of different
>community/company relationships is to look at the tension between the
>platform (both in its technological and political-economy aspects) and the
>community of users that is constituted on/through this platform.  One can
>see that they are sometimes very closely aligned (e.g. in the case of the
>WELL, for which the provision of the platform _is_ the business). Other
>times not so close (in case of AOL for which the providing of such
>platforms is only one out of many businesses that it engages in and their
>value is judged in relation to those others activities) and very poorly in
>the case of, say, Ebay for which the providing of a platform is only
>justified as long as it helps drive auctions on the site. Image an engaged,
>thriving user community on Ebay promoting alternative  auction services.

To me this sounds like he's trying to break out the 
community-building component of [insert commercial venture here] as a 
distinct analytic layer, in much the same sense that legal scholars 
(Larry Lessig and Kevin Werbach have been big exponents) and, 
gradually, everyone else are discovering the OSI stack and applying 
it to policy analysis.  That makes sense, because it leads into 
looking at tying and verticalization.  Which, even in 2001, remains 
at the heart of just about everything written, spoken, or otherwise 
gestured at by those whose business cards juxtapose "media" or 
"digital" with "strategy" or "business development".  The commerce 
mongers who started this thread, in other words, and I think MS 
Passport is a really graphic example of this process in motion.


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