If You Build It, Will They Come?

Shelley evoked Field of Dreams last week, so I'll go back to Costner: part of the problem of the "If you build it..." approach is that it adheres to the old "stickiness" model of success which says, "To build a community, you go create a platform, and then you try to get people to come to it." It's a solution seeking a problem.

After all, if this is an era of spreadability, we can't expect to tame "community" to exist exclusively at a particular place or platform. Instead (to use two buzzwords I've associated myself with in one paragraph), we have to think about a transmedia approach to community-building in the digital space. How do people move from in-person collaboration, to virtual projects, to online discussion, etc.?

The scholarly digital network is multi-platform, and it waxes and wanes, from Twitter exchanges that arise leading up to a conference to a Facebook posting about a media artifact that draws intense discussion among a scholarly network. When the time calls for it, there might be a dedicated scholarly collaboration (as, for instance, happened in fan studies with the "Gender and Fan Studies" series of conversations a few years back). And you have sites like MediaCommons providing a steady stream of real-time, relevant content that can spread through those networks.

We can't build a system of digital community that requires intense participation from everyone all the time. Likewise, we don't want to close our conversation off to an "exclusive" membership without porous boundaries that don't allow others to discover us and naturally come to join the conversation. What's worse, as is often the bigger problem with creating a gated community, we run a far greater risk: cutting ourselves off from intersecting with new scholars/approaches/ideas by not listening to what's happening outside our walls.


Great post. I think it speaks a lot to how communities HAVE to funtion. If all communities involved daily (or even weekly) interaction, we would all have to severely limit the number of communities we were involved in. 

This post and Bethany's have a lot in common, both reminding us of the discrete and finite nature of cohorts. I  feel like I'm needing to defend cohort, but like Bethany reminds us, we better be aware that it is a cohort. It develops  to serve a purpose and then usually dissolves, instead of necessarily meaning to exclude, even if it happens to be exclusive. 

Absolutely, Jamie. The challenge many of us have is that we feel the LinkedIn group we set up IS the community, rather than potentially a momentary place that a community gets together. Sometimes, communities ebb and flow. Often, they move from place to place, when and where it makes sense to be there. We don't have to have that LinkedIn group be active to "have" a community...

Throughout reading these excellent discussions on digital communities, I wonder if the outreach efforts the gated academy has made has been adequate. Like RW communities, serious attention is given to creating an attractive message to entice participation and often balancing out some of the negative aspects. In what ways can we present sites like MediaCommons to other disciplines or other digital circles that is appealing? In what ways do we deter input?

Any interdisciplinary discipline like ours faces the challenge, I think, between maintaining some common dialogue among those within the field and always drawing in new perspectives/disciplinary backgrounds/etc. Of course, one of our goals is also to open such discussions and make them relevant outside the academy, so that media scholars are not just engaging with one another but seeing their content reach wider circulation and active participation outside academia. It can sometimes be a challenge to maintain the two impulses simultaneously, but it's a balance that's crucial to strike for our work to be as impactful as it can be.

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