||Our Community Answers:
What are the different kinds of community?
Thank you for your question! It is a very good one and is actually
more difficult to answer than it might appear. There's a saying in academic
circles that "Geography is what Geographers do" and the same holds true
about online community. The statement "Community is what community does" is
a good starting point for answering your question, and leads us naturally on
to consider what that actually looks like in terms of the communities that
one can find online.
So what does Community do? A very simple answer would be:
1. it provides a venue for exchanges between individuals as part of a more
or less defined group.
2. it encourages the sharing of opinion, knowledge and/or information
between those individuals.
3. it illicits or builds on a sense of "belonging" to a group in the
individuals who participate.
So different kinds of community have these things in common in one way or
another, but execute each in different ways or in different contexts
according to the actual circumstances in which the community exists. It is,
however possible to distinguish two types of community and this is what
answers your question best. Note: any one community may
contain elements of both of these types:
1. Communities of Knowledge or Practice
Some communities, for example, are defined by a professional or corporate
body whose members (professionally accredited people, employers, employees
and so on) belong to it by nature of their status or membership. An
instance of this would be a community of therapists who by nature of their
profession belong to an accrediting organisation. Such a community might be
termed a community of knowledge or practice, whereby the means and modes of
community exchange are aimed at the communication and sharing of
professional information, ideas and practices.
Often this kind of community is not open to the general public and is based
on an existing affiliation, meaning that there are formal barriers to entry.
Indeed, many communities of this type are restricted to an organisation's
internal use only, on an intranet or extranet system.
2. Communities of Interest
Communities of interest are built around an identifiable need, theme or
interest which extends across organisational boundaries. To extend the
analogy of the therapists mentioned, this might be seen in the instance of
the patients of therapists who form a support group. Such a community might
be termed a community of interest, whereby the community is orientated
around a particular need, demographic feature or facet which is jointly held
by its members. The vast majority of online communities are communities of
interest. Examples include entertainment and fansite communities,
communities set up around hobbies and sports, and health and well-being
There are communities which should also be considered, more or less as
sub-types which overlap the two main types mentioned above. A good example
is what might be called the Customer Support Community. This kind of
community is defined more in terms of an individual's relationship to an
organisation as a customer or user of a product or service. Participants are
able to not only receive support from other community participants, but they
are able to receive information and assistance from the provider of the
product or service. In this way, such communities blend community with
We hope that this helps to answer your question. As you can see communities
are complicated and difficult to pigeonhole. The principles that all
communities share is what makes them perform in whatever shape or form, but
it is possible to identify key distinctions in practice. We thank you for
your question and encourage you to further discuss it on our message boards.
- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas