Our former colleague Giovanni Rodriguez worries that “community” is under stress from commercial interests that would abuse the label. “A fair number of people in my world have wondered if marketers are using the word to whitewash their commercial interests.”
I say, take heart. Unlike fabricated labels such as “Web 2.0,” “community” is a real word with some clear definitions. Web 2.0 was coined to refer to a new generation of web-based services and tools, including social networking sites, wikis, and folksonomies, but was quickly adopted as a catch phrase referring to all sorts of things, including websites, businesses, business models, even completely unrelated technologies. And since few actually knew what it meant and investment dollars poured in, little could be done to stop the flood.
But “community” means something generally understood, and if folks start using it for something that isn’t in the spirit of a community, readers will more easily detect it. At the same time, it’s important not to force this broad term to mean only one type of online community. Perhaps we need to keep a modifier in front of it – something more specific and informative than “online” – so we preserve usefulness of the general term and encourage other types of communities, online and off.
Another word feeling the stress is “green.” Although we can all agree that one definition of “green” is “environmentally sound or beneficial,” agreeing on what is environmentally sound or beneficial is far more difficult—which means “green” can end up meaning just about anything.
We may well have reached a tipping point with support for environmental issues. Tim Dyson is hopeful. Hollywood has gone green. Evangelicals have gone green. And PRWeek is holding its first-ever green conference in San Francisco because “Corporations are going green like never before.” But that may also mean that many other companies will soon turn green with envy and start spending the green to convince everyone they too are going green. So while we may finally be planting the right garden, there will still likely be plenty of weeding to do.