Are your readers a community?

I asked my Twitter followers what they think of substituting the word “community” for “readers” and I’m getting lots of good responses, many of them negative.

Either I didn’t know “community” had much of a stigma, or I spent too long working with “community” newspapers to notice. Back then, it seemed like a great linguistic way to hold a grizzled editor or publisher’s hand as they made the leap from thinking of the people in town as their “readers” to collaborating with them as “the former audience” as Dan Gillmor called them.

Twitter conversation embedded below, using Twickie to try it out.

ryansholin: I&#39ve been substituting the word “community” every time I start to type “readers” lately. What do you think?
about 44 minutes ago
lacajag: I like it. That&#39s what communication&#39s all about now.
about 42 minutes ago
greglinch: I&#39ve been liking “the former audience” more and more lately, but mostly avoid using it myself for some reason. Community = good.
about 41 minutes ago
scottros: good plan when readers really are community. True for some pubs/sites, not others. If not, then calling it so just rankles.
about 37 minutes ago
briandonohue: don&#39t like it. Use of community to describe online followers, etc is a pet peeve of mine.
about 35 minutes ago
CatrionaStuart: Depends. You can have readers and not community. IMHO community denotes sharing knowledge/ideas/function. http://bit.ly/3XWBL7
about 34 minutes ago
briandonohue: My readers are not part of my community. They won&#39t babysit my kids in a pinch or coach my kid soccer…
about 34 minutes ago
CharlieBeckett: I think community is almost a dead word now. Just because a group all read something doesn&#39t make them a cohesive community
about 5 minutes ago

5 thoughts on “Are your readers a community?

  1. Community implies a kind of unanimity that I don’t think you can assume from readers of news. Daily Kos has a community. If we define that word broadly enough to encompass a group who shares only its interest in news (eg readers of a mainstream news site) it has become vague to the point of uselessness.

  2. Community implies people are talking to each other, without relying on a single node (me or my news org) to mediate, along with a shared sense of identity based on who’s in, and possibly who’s out. That’s a harder thing to achieve than I suspect most people realize. It’s certainly not something I’ve managed to build on any of my sites, except possibly at fleeting moments on DalianDalian.

  3. I’ve been pondering this. I think the point about readers not implying community is a good one — I completely agree.

    But I don’t think community means that people are necessarily talking with each other. For example, you can have a sense of community through a shared experience like reading a newspaper, but this a lower threshold for “community.”

    One of the great advantage of the Web is the lower barrier to not only enhanced shared experiences, but interactive ones — be they face to face on Seesmic or comments on a blog.

    Also, there’s no one way to form a community. A community could form on it’s own or as a result of a community building efforts.

    Getting back to the original question, it’s hard to pin down an answer. So the question really is, “How do you define community?”

    Is it just someone who visits a site once — or even regularly — or is engaged through commenting, submitting photos, etc.? Something in between?

  4. OK, I think I’ve got something new to say about this, thanks to one of the “parenting” (ha!) blogs I subscribe to. Namely, Geekdad. Here’s the relevant link.

    And here’s my interpretation:

    Maybe this is the key difference between an “audience” (or “readers”) and a “community”: In an audience, the members share a topic of interest; in a community, the members are the topic of interest.

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