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Debate over what is online "community" at WeMedia Miami

Jeffnolan_newsgatorI spent part of yesterday at WeMedia Miami over at the University of Miami campus, where journalists, bloggers and tech heads from all over gathered to talk about digital media. Pictured here is Jeff Nolan, vice president of Business Development at NewsGator. He talked about ways publishers are using widgets and RSS feeds to reach audiences.

There were several sessions going on at the same time. So unfortunately, since there is only one of me, I had to place my bets and pick only some of the topics to attend. Herald reporter Oscar Corral attended one about digital media and the presidential campaigns. You can read his story here. Some sessions ended up being snoozers, but a few prompted some interesting discussions.

The most interesting conversation I heard came from a forum about social experiences in business. The panel was putting me to sleep, plugging their own organizations and blogs... and just as I was about to pass out, an audience member told the panel he doesn't Twitter, and no one he knows Twitters. And apparently there was a Twitter going on for people at WeMedia, but he didn't even hear about this (nor did I). How are people supposed to know about these things, he asked. Because obviously a little clique within the WeMedia conference knew about this Twitter account that was being talked about at this session. And in regards to social networks, he followed with, "When do they become little clubs, and when do they become communities?"

The response from panelist Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder and COO of Blogher, was no one really knows it until "you just get exposed."

Kaliya Hamlin, founder of Unconference.net, said "It doesn't make sense to Twitter into a vacuum if none of your friends are on Twitter." She added that you have to choose which type of community works best for you -- "it's not about trying to be in everything."

Jeff Nolan (also at this panel) brought up how many people just throw the word community around at conferences like this, and it loses it's meaning. To him, it makes more sense to call such things "groups."

But that got other panelists like Hamlin worked up. She argued that groups are way different from communities.

So another audience member chimed in: Can you define community?

And they couldn't agree on a definition. If anything, the discussion got pretty heated. Would you call the Facebook group "PINK Victoria's Secret" with 346,000 members a community, or do you have to be part of an group of mommy bloggers that go to blogging conferences to be a community?

One of the smartest comments of the session came from yet another audience member. She said she worked in public relations and helped corporate clients get into online social spaces. She said it is our duty as tech savvy people in this industry to spread the word to others in the corporate world about what is going on. It's not about just doing what everybody else is doing.

And she's right. It is our duty to explain how it works to others and have discussions about what works and what doesn't. It's our duty to not assume companies know how to Tweet on Twitter. And if every company just made a Facebook group to get an audience because that's what every other company is doing, is it effective? Or is it a waste of resources?

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Sabrina

Concepts that seem easy to define on the surface are usually pretty complex underneath. Some other seemingly simple concepts that philosophers have tackled in the past include "Function" (Aristotle), "Cause" (Hume), "Game" (Wittgenstein), and "Justification" (Gettier) are just a few of the more noteworthy ones. All are concepts we use daily, and think of as routine, normal, run-of-the mill bits of language, but when we really try to define them by giving necessary and sufficient conditions, everything goes haywire. There's this whole academic discipline centered around trying to define concepts like that. Crazy, huh?

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