There are thousands of communities on the Internet. Some are vast, some are tiny. Each is unique, but some common behaviors emerge in similar contexts, depending on how the community is hosted, on the participants’ relationships to one another, or on the subject matter. In this chapter, we will look at several general types of communities and then review some common types of social software infrastructure.
Communities are not a new concept. People have existed in communities since before we started to farm the land. What is recent is the ability to form communities that are geographically distant and entirely interest-led. For instance, prior to the Internet, if you wanted to find local hi-fi buffs, you needed to hang out at your local hi-fi or record shop. Now you can find dozens of hi-fi communities on the Internet, and the only barriers are language and the times people are awake.
All communities are a form of group, and so they follow the behavioral patterns that groups exhibit. People in groups tend to identify with the group as a whole; they will sometimes be unwelcoming to strangers and will form norms for group behaviors. They also have a common history which will be referenced from within the group. Finally, you cannot make a group. You can create the conditions for a group to form and encourage the formation, but you cannot force people to interact socially online.
Publisher-led communities ...