Facebook Is Not A Community (No, Nor is MySpace)

facebook populationIf you have ever been in a foreign country you have probably had a conversation similar to this:
“You are from California? I have a friend in California, maybe you know him!”
We always laugh when this happens because California has roughly 30 million residents and is larger in size than many countries (it is about the same size as Japan).
But if you had a conversation where you told someone you belonged to a particular church, graduated a specific high school in a given year, or had worked at a small company you would not be surprised to have the same conversation. What is the difference? The difference I would suggest is that a high school class is a community but California is not.
The point my seem obvious but I am surprised that this point of view does not always carry over to the internet. I was listening to the latest live call-in show for the excellent podcast For Immediate Release when I heard a caller express a comment that people should get involved in a community like Facebook. I am not trying to pick on Shel and Neville for their excellent show, but this comment mirrors an understanding of Facebook and similar sites that I have heard expressed on many occasions.
Facebook states in their press area that they currently have 70 million active users which is more than twice the population of California. Facebook and the other social networking sites host a great number of communities but are not communities. My daughter is a member of numerous communities on facebook like her college classmates and high school classmates. My son has many of the same high school friends but is attending a college all the way across the country. Their college communities don’t overlap. They are a similar demographic of course but demographics do not a community make. I also belong to facebook but my facebook friends tend to be podcasters and Amateur Traveler podcast listeners. I could try and befriend all my daughters classmates (creepy) but I would be treated as what I am, an outsider.
The distinction here is important. Many people confuse a community with a website or with a set of features. But communities are people. They are people who share something other than bandwidth. They share values, or experiences or interests. I have seen a number of people find no value in facebook or other social networking sites until they realize that they can use it to reconnect to their high school girlfriend or college roommate. They don’t find any value in it until they find community.

Author: chris2x

One man's view of life in Silicon Valley from Chris Christensen - a podcaster, blogger, programmer, entrepreneur


  1. I don’t feel picked on, Chris. However, I guess this depends on the definition of “community.” Watch the news and you’re likely to hear about the African-American Community, the gay community, the Jewish community (I’m a member), and so forth.
    Checking definitions of “community” in Google, I found this one: “The aggregate of persons with common characteristics such as geographic, professional, cultural, racial, religious, or socio-economic similarities; communities can be defined by location, race, ethnicity, age, occupation, interest in particular problems or outcomes, or other common bonds…”
    Thus, you could argue that all members of Facebook share a common characteristic: They’re all members of Facebook. Surely the environmentalist community is at least as large.
    I do agree with you; this doesn’t fit MY view of a community. But since the definition is out there — and the common usage is pretty common — it’s easy to see how someone can apply it to Facebook.

  2. Granted, and another definition is “Society as a whole; the public.” Which is to say that everyone is in community.
    But, what I encourage people to realize (and having listened to your show I have the impression we agree on this) is to move towards more meaningful relationships. That might be in one’s personal life or it might be between a PR professional and boggers.
    Generally when we talk about building community, building real relationships we need to think past the features and technology to the people involved. That’s all I was trying to say.

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