Defining the term: “Online Community”

I’m both passionate about communities (having created the community advocate group in Facebook, as well as held the community manager role at HDS) and am now doing research on this topic. I’m on a quest to find an accurate, reliable, and timeless definition of the term “online community”.

I vetted this definition with my Twitter network, received nearly 50 responses this morning. I’ve boiled down a definition to the following:

An online community is: Where a group of people with similar goals or interests connect and exchange information using web tools.

Also good reads are other ways to define community, (quoting Jake McKee). Amy Jo Kim has a book and online resources that are very helpful.

Your feedback wanted (as always) how do you define community? Please note this needs to be succint, yet comprehensive and stand the test of time.

I embedded all the responses I received on twitter about the community definition. I think it’s appropriate to note that I’m working with the community to define the term.

I just saw Shel defined this from his blog as “Communities are bodies of people loosely joined together by a common interest”. That’s the most succint one so far, I’ll add to it to suit the requirement of an ‘online community’: “Communities are bodies of people loosely joined together by a common interest that exchange information using web tools”.

Update 2: In the comments below, Jake suggests that time and relationships are a factor, I don’t think they are. People don’t have to have relationships to be part of a community (although he suggests that skirts into a community of practice arena) and I think someone can be part of a community, time not being a factor.

As a result, I’m getting fond of this second definition:

“Online communities are bodies of people joined together by a common interest”.

Working this definition out in public has proven fruitful, even some of my colleagues are chiming in.

The day after. I’ve given this more thought, and in my quest to “boil down” the essence of the term, it’s clear to me that folks do NOT agree on the following being attributes of every community:

Relationships: From deep to none
Time (long time to develop vs short time)
Interaction: from exchanging ideas to just observing.
Agreement of all ideas

The two attributes that everyone seems to agree are always part of a community are the follwoing

A group of people
Commonalities, affinities

So the second definition listed above, really has the potential for staying power.

Update Jan 31st: Jake brings up more points, that an online community is too broad, there’s got to be a more definitive attribute to describe a ‘bunch of people standing around’ vs a ‘community. Could it be interaction, duration, or the building of relationships?