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Raman Sharma
Raman Sharma

Posted on • Originally published at ramansharma.substack.com

What does Community mean in Tech?

I don't think any other industry uses the word community as liberally and, unfortunately, as loosely as the tech industry does. Different entities use this term differently and make it as broad or narrow as possible depending on their interpretation or interests.

At this stage of the argument, I would usually include a dictionary definition of the term to create a baseline and then demonstrate how far we have deviated from the baseline. However, the truth is that all of the above-mentioned loose usages of the word will probably fit some version of the definition. That still doesn't mean that the term isn't abused.

There are times when people (in business) say things like "the community expects us to....". At such times, I am a little confused about which community is being referred to:

1) "The X community" where X is a business or organization or product, e.g., "The iPhone user community" or "The Peloton community". Popular products tend to have strong and loyal communities around them. These are people who write articles about these products, jump onto online forums to help other users out with problems, defend these products when compared to competitive products, etc. It is not uncommon for businesses to themselves create these avenues for engagement. However, in such cases, these are just one-to-many channels (for support or information dissemination) that companies operate publicly to "answer once, solve many". This is an interesting take:

2) "The Y community" where Y is an interest, trend, profession, skill, technology, etc., e.g., "The JavaScript developer community" or "The medical community" or "The crypto community". In the technology industry, this is the most remarkable kind of community that invariably springs up around a common interest area just in support of the idea and to help others learn and grow. I love this video that describes how the internet has turbocharged this category of the community (this is before social media):

However, even here, businesses can plant themselves opportunistically. If a trend is popular, companies want to leverage it to advance their interests. Putting a lot of helpful content out on the internet that touches upon ideas, concepts, problems, solutions, etc., that are relevant to your products can help bring potential customers to your doorstep (or at least leave an impression of you as a helpful brand). In this case, instead of calling it "The Tuft and Needle Community", they will quite deliberately call it "The mattress enthusiast community". It just sounds more altruistic. And there is nothing wrong with it. If you have solved a genuine "sleep posture" problem for an online reader through an interesting article, then you have legitimately earned the right to at least request them to come to your site and take a look at your mattress catalog. This is also called content marketing btw!

On this note, for all the flak that StackOverflow gets about being unfriendly, there is no arguing that it does provide value to people in "The Developer community" looking for specific information.

3) "The Z community" where Z is a location - neighborhood, city, state, country, continent, the entire globe (but mostly limited to humans), e.g., "The Bronx community" or "The North Bend community"

Similarly, it could be any number of combinations of socioeconomic characteristics, proximity to certain individuals in a business, personal passions of people, and so on.

However, I wonder whether a person even identifies as a part of the said community in many cases. Anyway, in this post, to simplify things, I will go along with the accepted usage of the term, which is "the community".

Since we are talking about "the community" that people in business talk about, let us dissect it a little bit more. It would not be too far-fetched to argue that every business engages with "the community" with a business goal in mind (for the most part). Even this concept becomes a point of contention sometimes - different parts of the business have differing opinions around whether a particular business activity is community-oriented or not.

There are axes along which people define who is in "the community" and who isn't. And if a particular action doesn't benefit their preferred side of the axis, the gatekeepers deem it not community-oriented. Examples:

  • Based on engagement: Customers who pay money, users who use products (yes, this can be a different group from paying customers), people who write comments on online forums, people who read documentation are all sometimes (but not unanimously) considered a part of "the community". Others are not.

  • Based on interest/occupation: Some say that to be a part of "the community", it is not required to engage with anything that a business puts out. Just being in the same industry or having similar interests qualifies someone to be a part of it. Business textbooks would describe these entities as competition, partners, or target markets. To each their own.

  • Based on size: Another common argument is that individual users (people engaging with a business or a product in their personal capacity) are a part of "the community" but business users (who buy for business use) are not. Beats me!

  • Based on economic exchange: According to another school of thought, anyone a business engages with, in a profit-making capacity, is not in "the community". However, anyone who is a beneficiary of the charitable deeds of a company is a part of the community.

I am not arguing that any of these definitions OR even any of these ways of thinking are wrong. I guess I have just joined the community of people confused about which community they are in.

Discussion (1)

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rosano profile image
Rosano

I wrote some thoughts about this as well dev.to/rosano/community-essence-1h20