How Do You Define Community?
I’ve been thinking lately about community. Thinking about eLearning community, about the Captivate community, sure… but also about all sorts of communities. Do I really know what community is? Could I poke it with a stick if I saw it?
I’m originally from Wyoming. I mean that I was born in Wyoming. For those of you in the broader world, Wyoming is a rural state in the US known for its deep roots in the American West. With nostalgic links to cowboys and independence, Wyoming is among the most sparsely populated places in the United States. While my years in Wyoming were short and early, I remember those years fondly and they are filled with memories most often including family and close friends.
When I think of my uncles and my father running high into the sage brush to pee out a fire from a rogue rocket on the fourth of July, is that community? When I think of neighbors and friends gathering at the corner market and talking for far too long while mud-smeared companions run circles around plastic flying elephants, is that community?
Later in life my memories of belonging to a set tend to fall upon school. Most of my formative years were spent in the corn-and soybean shadows of Iowa. Thanks to facebook, many of my original classmates are still just an Instant Message away. We chased and swung and climbed together. We ate together, took naps together, read together and studied together. Most of us no longer live anywhere near one another, but still we chat and email and share stories. Is this community?
As I began my professional career I met tens of thousands of students, worked with hundreds of educators, created spectacles with a myriad of artists and performers. We drank and sang and swam naked together. We laughed and cried and learned together. Is that community?
More recently I’ve encountered modern social communities. I’ve been working with several friends over the past six months to help create a centralized resource for the Adobe Captivate and eLearning community. It wasn’t long after I joined the eLearning team that I began to notice a pattern. Upon joining the team I’d gone online and searched out thousands of documents across dozens and dozens of web sites all very helpful but also a bit difficult to find.
I realized fairly quickly that while there is an enormous, productive and very generous community of Captivate and eLearning Suite users, they had never really centralized upon a ‘common watering hole.’ This would present itself most often when I’d try to explain to someone where they could get help on a given issue. The answer was usually to point them to several different resources online. As we looked at the core problem, we wanted to identify a solution that would provide the community with a mouthpiece – something that would enable community members and leaders to share their amazing talents. We also realized that we’d need to create something that had the potential to fit into the lives and schedules of as many of our customers as possible.
It isn’t like our goal was to create community, after all – the community of Captivate users was already there, just a bit disconnected. And our goal wasn’t to denigrate in any way the amazing efforts that individuals were making to create great destination resources. Our goal was to enhance the potential for communication by creating a convergence in the stream. The core idea was to provide a common landing ground that would be an excellent way to share messages about everything that was being written, filmed, shared and created that might be of interest to users of Captivate and the eLearning Suite.
After quite a bit of investigation we decided that rather than re-invent social networking, we’d use the most popular channel online today for social networking, and focus on enhancing its functionality in order to provide people with valuable information via the channel most of them are already using. We decided to offer the Captivate community a watering hole, centered around facebook.
I think it is important to note here that community is a blessing. It is a gathering of people with common interests and goals. It isn’t something that any given corporation can control, buy, sell or claim ownership over. The eLearning community exists with or without any of its individual participants, so it is absolutely not appropriate for anyone to try to claim ownership of a community or steer a given community. Like each individual member of the community, the best a company can hope for is to facilitate that community.
I’m pleased to say that this mission is going quite well. Today there are nearly 35,000 people connected to the Adobe Captivate facebook page. We’ve held two great contests, displayed loads of great community created content, answered hundreds of questions for hundreds of customers, shared blogs, videos, projects and more focused on a variety of topics of interest to those creating eLearning. We’ve centralized the schedule listings of our eSeminars, making it simple to find and register for any of the amazing and innovative eSeminars we provide to community every week. We’ve shared our blog posts as well as those of dozens of bloggers from around the world, and have an extremely active core of more than a dozen Adobe eLearning employees and even more dedicated community evangelists that are constantly working to bring the latest news, stories, examples and experiences to our wonderful community.
The Captivate community is enormous, so big in fact that it may be difficult to spot that community if you aren’t standing far enough back. The Captivate community is extremely active. The Captivate community is proud of the amazing accomplishments they’ve made, and they have every reason to be so. The Captivate community is generous, patient and thriving. Every day I meet new members. Every day those choosing to join us via the facebook watering hole increases substantially. The Captivate community is you, and you are important to me, and important to the other members of this community.
So if you’ve got something to share: a project, a story, a tip, a trick, a problem or a bug, an announcement or anything at all you think your colleagues should know, I hope you’ll share it with us. You can post it right on the facebook page, tweet it with hashtag #AdobeCaptivate, add it to the support forums via http://captivate.adobe.com/ or GetSatisfaction on our facebook page, or join us for one of our amazing eSeminars.
What do you think community is? How does it impact your day to day experience? How has it helped shape who you are today? What have you done to be an active participant in your community? Post a comment in the section below – We’d love to hear your ideas on the subject.