I’m up to the ears in work these days and posting a bit slowly, but I don’t want to forget about this piece. Eric Hoffer has come, from a semantic web perspective, to an interesting issue. Or two.
The first is technology. He outlines a vision where he can gather the threads of relevant conversations from different communities (board- or list-supported conversations) as well as those running at (and across) blogs. All filtered according to domain and person interests (i.e. just the issues and the people he chooses to follow).
This is in fact quite closer than one might think. Most blogs are efficently tagged according to domain, and track links quite well; a better-built RSS reader with appropriate filters could enable the blog part of his vision. Tagging forum posts and threads is not as widespread but it’s already started (pushed by search engine optimization, to be fair) and most are already quite proficient at generating RSS feeds; again, filtering well-tagged feeds for interesting domains and authors should not be impossible (whenever tagging becomes widespread).
So his vision of a personal, «virtual», tailored community is not impossible. Indeed, there may be a business model not far from the surface, there.
The second issue he raises is a social one, but he raises it only implicitly.
OK, let’s assume the reader works, and that it’s viable to participate in those conversations (registration issues, participation interfaces… at a basic level, there doesn’t need to be any integration). The user can sit in the middle of his virtual «dynamic community» and follow any conversation, and even dip into them at will.
The question is, is that really a community?
Yes, it‘s a window into a «conversation space». Yes, it‘s a domain. It can be a community in a wide, lax sense (as in «the worldwide coal-mining community»). I’ve heard it called a «domain community». But I don’t think it‘s really any sort of community.
In as much as a community is a social construct, with some shared procedures, goals and culture, and some personal affinity stemming from all of those, and not just a set of streams of information, it‘s not.
Participation is not everything it takes to belong to a community. Remember the «honourable lurker» concept? And there’s participation without belonging, both legitimate and parasitic.
Eric’s reader would give us a window into many communities, into many disparate societies and their conversations. But it would only gives us fragments (the bits and pieces that we state we’re interested in). We would get all the domain context, but we would miss most of the social contex. We could be universal lurkers (and sometime participants) but not members.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I want Eric’s viewer as soon as someone builds it :-). It’ll save me a lot of time for staying abreast of what’s going on.
I’m just stressing that a community is more than nodes and information streams. It just doesn’t fit in the reader.