In the Manifesto, Rich argues (rightly I'm sure) that we need to know much more about communities and less about technology. This made me think about a my parents-in-law's Golden Wedding Tea about 15 months ago. They invited around 40 of their friends and we were there to help host. Friends of those celebrating Golden Weddings tend to be older, and so it was this time. Many of those there were frail and physically failing; others were fading in other ways. Many had lost loved ones - and of course others who would have been there had died years before.
I found the gathering deeply moving - because these were people who had journeyed together for, in many cases, around 40 years. These were people who had been committed to each other; had shared joys and pain; had disagreed with and forgiven each other; had loved each other; had got each other through the hard times; and had shared the good times together. Shared experience, not just opinions and information. This was community at its best.
What made it community wasn't technology (obviously). And whilst there was intentional community building going on in the background (my father-in-law was a pastor) this wasn't the 'formal' community he'd built, but a community of friends. So what marked it? There were people committed for the long haul; there had been years and years of acceptance, integrity, and transparent living. There had been giving of each other to each other - friendship at its best. It was organic - nobody was 'managing' or 'running' this community.
I think there are lessons here, but figuring out how they might apply to online communities is hard. Well, maybe some of the lessons are actually not that hard. I wonder if we need to recognise that the best communities are not instant, but long term; that the relationships they nurture are multi-faceted and based on shared experience; and that whilst communities can be built, the best ones are not 'managed', though (perhaps) they are served.