Web 2.0 Expo and Online Community Roundtable

by Chris Kenton on April 25, 2008

I spent most of the day yesterday at the Web 2.0 Expo, just looking and listening and trying to gather some impressions about the market. The sessions I attended this year were much better than last. The best session I attended was Stephan Spencer’s seminar on advanced SEO techniques. Practical. Strategic. Engaging. He’s coming out with a book for O’Reilly sometime in the near future. I suspect it will be a must-read.

The sessions I attended on marketing were a mixed bag. For every sharp marketer I heard parsing the native opportunities of Web 2.0, there were dozens just trawling for ways to leverage Web 2.0 to more effectively spam their market. I guess that’s par for the course.

I thought the trends on the exhibition floor were interesting. Last year the dominant theme was collaboration. This year there I only noticed one company positioning themselves prominantly as a collaboration platform, but a sea of companies offering web application dev tools and anything they could stick a cloud computing badge on. I was trying to make sense of the shift when I ran into Kent Langley at the Online Community Roundtable. His take was interesting, informed as it is by his position as an IT director supporting the development of enterprise Web apps at SolutionSet. His opinion is that we’ve moved from the surface concepts of "hey, we can collaborate online" to the more substantial nuts and bolts of actually building web applications that work. Kent has a substantial blog post on cloud computing that is definitely worth a read

Thanks, Bill, for yet another great Online Community Roundtable. This month the roundtable was hosted at SixApart, and the discussion was lively. One of the most interesting debates was about what really makes a community online. Clearly the kind of dialog that happens on your Facebook wall signifies a community through discussion. But is playing Scrabulous with a total stranger a community interaction? The underlying question is what, exactly, is the glue that binds a community online? Is it simply a shared experience? Does it require some deeper interpersonal engagement? Does it require dialog–or is sharing photos on Flickr with no comments communal?

This is something that will rattle around in my head for a while. Certainly the point of reference is important. Many people are driving communities simply to build traffic they can monetize. In that sense, viral growth is more important than depth of engagement, and community is just a collection of moths to the flame. But if you’re trying to build value for participants, community means something much different, and requires some kind of sustainable depth–whether it’s personal, professional, or simply a shared affinity.   

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