Thursday, June 12, 2008

What I learned about community on maternity leave


It's been about three months since I've posted to this blog. I took a short leave to spend time with my new son, a.k.a. the cutest baby in the world. I tried not to think about work too much, but since community and social media is a personal love of mine, it was hard to turn off that part of my brain.

And so as we took our daily walk through our neighborhood, the baby nodding off in his stroller, I often thought about community. I did so probably because as I walked down the street, I ran into people who would simply strike up a conversation with me.

There were people who I knew and spoke with often, such as Don at Vivace (easily one of Seattle's best baristas) where we'd get our morning coffee. We saw him every day, and since I often talked to him, it was not odd to extend our conversation. Then there were the folks I knew who stopped to chat instead of saying just a quick hello. And finally there were the complete strangers who I ended up chatting with for 15 minutes.

Many times, people spoke to me because they wanted to share a story about their children or grandchildren, or maybe they were pregnant or thinking about having a child. It was a content discussion, and since we know that people gather to share stories on shared topics, that's not surprising.

What was surprising was that the baby served as a permission to strike up a conversation. It was, as if, my son became a social lubricant, sort of like a martini.

Which made me wonder: what is the equivalent to a social lubricant in an online community? Sure there's status, i.e. "I'm looking to meet friends." And yes friends introduce friends to each other. But there must be something more than that, something that's not just a point of commonality, but a permission. Is there a tool we could create to lubricate community?

I don't necessarily have the answer, but I will continue to ponder that question, because I think that if we can figure that out, online communities will become more compelling. If you have thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks, and good to be back.

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