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Community for Dummies

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In: Columns > DigiSect

By Stephen Van Doren

Published on August 14, 2001

I take my introduction from dictionary.com, which says that community is several things:

  1. A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government (read: the 'Net)
  2. A group of people having common interests (I think that definition speaks for itself)
  3. A group viewed as forming a distinct segment of society (we are a bit different)
  4. Society as a whole; the public (Who knew it could be this broad a definition?)

The "standard definition" speaks volumes about the Web World as we know it, without even trying. While it's true (and I would be remiss if I failed to mention it) that the 'Net community has had its pitfalls and its downtimes, we've been a truly strong community... especially when it comes to those of us who build the Web for a living.

And how can I say that with a straight face?

I'll be mercifully brief in this particular explanation. The reason we've been having issues as a web development community is because we care so damned much about what we do. We see things popping up all over the place, commercially driven, polluting the vision that we have, together and separately, of what the web should be.

Jekyll and Hyde

The face that we put on at our "day jobs" is one of professionalism and work for the goal of putting food on the table. When we come home that night, we sit down with the face of the independent developer out there to make a change in the world, no matter how small.

And when we encounter things that are going against the grain of what we're doing, we get upset—naturally. And why shouldn't we? It's our 'Net!

Notice that above, in the definitions, nothing is said about a number of people that are required to make a group of folks into a community. It's acting for a common goal—a functional end with which we can further our designs of peace and charity. Or at least recognition.

Which brings me to another important fact: 'Blogs create communities. If you doubt me even for a second, look at Metafilter. That's nothing but a blog (and a well laid-out and executed one, at that!). Talk about community! Haughey, bless his heart, just collected and gave out money for college scholarships.

College. Scholarships. That sort of stuff only happens in the real world! In real communities!

Look at the {fray} for a moment. There is no better way of making a community than to share humanity. {Fray} is all about humanity and fallibility. Reading through the stories, I connect. I read about this persons drug habits and remember my own. I think about this person's experiences in a foreign land, and I remember my own. I connect with those people without ever having to meet them (though I'm sure the conversations we could have would be amazing and entertaining for everyone around us). The point is that words connect us. Words and images.

It's what I call digital charisma. Many people contest me when I say that charisma is alive and well on the 'Net. It's more apparent than ever in recent months. It's the concept of sharing thoughts and stories in a digital forum to give away something of yourself to another person.

Since when were electrons charismatic?

When we follow a great leader, we do so because they seem so selfless, so open to sacrifice, that we can't help but trot behind in awe. Zeldman is an amazing example of this. Josh, Heather, Nick, Carole, Derek, Jason—they are "popular" because they are charismatic in the digital realms. There are others, but if I were to list the thousands out there that inspire me, this article would be nothing more than a portal of people and their personal web sites.

And I'm not saying that's bad.

When people give of themselves for another person, they are immediately inspired by that person—sometimes, we end up doing it ourselves. When I started out on the 'Net, I didn't want to be involved with the community-at-large. I wanted to do what I did, make as much money as possible, and spend as little time as possible doing things that would be considered free.

That was 7 years ago, and things have changed a lot for me. First and foremost, I came across the Doc Ozone and eventually his Ozone Asylum. We've all seen his work in some fashion or another. He's one of those folks that have been, seemingly, around since the beginning—and he never seems to stop! But when I came across his work and then his forum, I did something I'd never done up until then—gave away "trade secrets" to someone I'd never met. Why did I do that? I was asked to. This was back in May of 2000, oddly enough. Up until that time, I was pro-business, and pro-money. I'm still both of those, but I'm now also pro-Web.

"Pro-web." What does that mean?

It means that I will sacrifice myself (as I have done so many times before) to give to the people that love the Web, that have a passion for it and all that it's capable of doing, for people that give of themselves for the community that we've created.

I don't want to start crying here, but something occurs to me when I see an article I've written up somewhere, or someone e-mailing me about something I've said somewhere else. Each time it happens, a piece of me leaves and joins the great collective of the pro-Web people out there. If you're reading this, chances are good you have something to share, too, which means you're one of those blessed people that I care so much about.

I guess that's why one of my main computers is called Proweb1. It's a small but constant reminder... that the Web is a community, and that we're all very much part of it.

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Stephen Van Doren is a software developer and graphic designer from Denver, Colorado.

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