Some observations on communities:
The role of online community manager is fast becoming a hot job opportunity for people who not only understand the technologies but how to exert influence in a network. It’s like pushing a rope. Leadership by example (or modelling instead of shaping) is a good starting point. Think of multiple communities divided by low stone walls that serve to delineate areas but also are places to meet and converse “over the fence”. The bottom line is that the community manager doesn’t manage much, but is more of a coach and facilitator.
An important issue is what we call, and how we define, communities in our work practice. I see online communities more as networks than groups. In a network, joint activities are co-operative and non-directive. No one is in charge. Communities and networks exemplify complexity, with fuzzy boundaries, shifting cultures and mostly autonomous members. On the other hand, online work groups have lower levels of complexity in order to get things done in a timely manner. Members have less autonomy and there are clearer roles for managers. The work in these groups may be complicated but there are rules, boundaries and processes.
Networked communities are better structures in dealing with complexity, when emerging practices need to be continuously developed and loose ties can help facilitate fast feedback loops without hierarchical intervention. Collaborative groups are better at making decisions and getting things done. The constraints of the group help to achieve defined goals.
Effective knowledge workers participate in communities and networks and work co-operatively, sharing openly and learning from each other. Communities of practice are more clearly defined communities, focused on a particular field of work. Groups may form within or across communities in order to get work done, often this is project work with deliverables and remuneration. Online communities are where knowledge workers can learn and share and from which they can gel as groups from time to time in order to get work done. This is the nature of net work in an interconnected world.