Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Let's kill the sacred cow of "Community" and reveal the hidden commercialism

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 19, 2005

Sacred_Cow.jpgTuesday evening I was trying to find my way to a class room in South Hall, a building on the massive, meandering UC Berkeley campus where Quentin Hardy, a senior editor at Forbes is teaching a journalism class.

Quentin invited Dan Gillmor, John Shinal from Dow Jones' CBS MarketWatch, and myself a former mainstream journalist, to speak to his class about the new online media and how it affects our sense and understanding of self.

There were about 30 students and we chatted about a lot of things, and the word "community" kept cropping up, and up and up; not among the students, but from my fellow panelists.

It reminded me of my dislike for the term "community" because it is charged with an almost sacrosanct cultural meaning, to such an extent that it defies and discourages challenge. It is a revered word/term/concept and it is one that has become broadly appropriated by commercial interests, and deliberately so.

In the blogosphere and the larger mediasphere, community is used in ways that clouds meaning and cloaks commercial enterprise.

During a chat after class, Quentin noted that he heard the word community constantly at the recent Web 2.0 conference, where the $2800 per seat audience applauded "community" business models and services from the $30K per vendor pitches.

I think this sacred cow needs to be slain and we should not use highly charged words or terms unless we mean them to be used that way.

We should use more culture-neutral terms which don't engage society's sensitivities.

Here's my contribution to slaying the cow: I pointed out to the class that commercial interests love online communities, because they are an aggregated blob into which you can more cheaply throw marketing messages.

And let's not forget the "conversations" of the online communities, which are collected and diced and sliced and packaged and sorted and sold. By Technorati, Feedster, and a gazillion others--because it is all out in the open, in the commons.

Commercial interests are acceptable--after all, everyone has a landlord or banker that needs to eat--but cloaking commercial interests behind sacrosanct terms and ideas and concepts is beyond the bounds, imho.

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