Community vs. Territory

I watched a video just now by Laura “Pistachio” Fitton that clarified for me a distinction I wanted to make, but that previously wasn’t coming together properly for me.

“sxsw seesmic junkies dinner” [permalink]
Now, that was a table FILLED with people that I’m either in direct contact with or follow on social sites: Laura Fitton, Jane Quigley, Jim Long, Phil Campbell, Steve Garfield, Christian Payne (“Documentally”), Patty Hartwell, Shannon Newton, Cathy Brooks

Around 4 minutes 30 seconds, Cathy mentions “community”. By the smiles on the participants’ faces and the fellowship, you can tell that they are all part of a community. What made this post finally possible for me is that while they became a community because of Seesmic, they weren’t interacting via Seesmic. They were IRL, having dinner together, chatting and having a good time. Somehow, what I wanted to talk about clicked after Cathy’s speech and seeing ‘community’ exist in a totally different environment.

There’s a difference between Community and Territory.

The word ‘community’ is often used to indicate ‘territory’… Like they might have a housing project named “Chicago Community”. In fact, those houses are territory. What makes them a community is how people interact with each other WITHIN that territory. You can live near someone and have NOTHING to do with them, not even to say hello as you pass in the street. You can live far from someone and talk to them every day and spend a lot of time with them, virtually on the net or by other means.

Having this feeling of community can easily give one the feeling of dominion over a territory. This is a false feeling, with no standing or merit… UNLESS members of said community are ACTUALLY owners of the territory, appointed agents of those owners, or members of the community that are willing to stand up and accept leadership of that group, lay down laws and enforce them. When there’s nobody in charge, there ARE no rules definable by the community. There are rules definable by THE OWNERS OF THE TERRITORY, which must be followed by all inhabitants of the territory, whether they’re a part of the community or not.

Thus, as popular as *A* community might be, without authority, anything they say regarding the territory is a SUGGESTION, not a MANDATE. It carries ZERO weight, except amongst the people of THAT particular community who are willing to follow the lead of whomever stood up and decided to make a rule… such as “How people SHOULD use this site” “What’s good etiquette on this site” “What new people need to know about this site” “How long posts should be on this site” “How you have to act after you post to this site”…. etc etc etc. It’s all hogwash and trivial banter to anyone that doesn’t subscribe to the community in which this so-called leader has chosen to lay down some laws.

Now… You ask “But, what if there’s only ONE community? Doesn’t that mean community=territory?”

No. 😀

Even if there’s only one group of people in a territory that calls themselves a community, or in some cases, THE community (like THE HIP HOP VIOLINIST :/), without connection to or authority from the owners of the territory, they have ZERO say in what happens to that territory. Do they have say over their community? Absolutely. Community exists in the ‘heart’ and mind. Inside or outside of the territory, the community thrives as long as there are still people that believe in that community. Dominion over one’s community FEELS LIKE dominion over the territory that community’s sitting on when there’s nobody else there. 😀

When nobody else has access to become a member of the territory, there’s no turnover. It’s like having the air conditioning circulate air inside your house without bringing in fresh air from the outside. It’s cold, and it feels good, but it’s only representative of a tiny subset of the actual air available inside your house and outside. As soon as others are given access to the territory, strictly by definition, “the” community will shrink drastically in the percentage of the territory in which it can hold court.

As soon as you double the number of currently active participants, assuming that “the” community doesn’t welcome and absorb these new people “into the fold” and assuming everyone contributes an equal amount of posts, the visibility of “the” community is AT LEAST split in half, and they now occupy 50% of the territory. So now, there are at least TWO communities, even if they’re “the originals” and “the newjacks”. Even if the new territory members don’t form a formal community, they’re meeting each other and making connections and having conversations and adding each other to their friends lists and following and replying to their contacts’ posts. Depending on frequency of posting and replying to popular newjack threads, looking at the front page of a site, the presence of the original community (which, of course, was dominion by default, being that nobody else was there) won’t be seen as any stronger or relevant than the new territory members. As a matter of fact, “the originals” will be completely indistinguishable from “the newjacks”. This is only when you merely DOUBLE the number of active participants…..

The ‘solution’ to this is to enjoy COMMUNITY without feeling ENTITLEMENT. If you have constructive comments for people joining the territory that your community has occupied by default up until now, that’s great! 😀 If you have rules and laws and crabby things to say, “Save it for David”. What you have to say is meaningless without authority. The laws will be handed down by the owners & appointed rulers. In most cases, those are found in the ToS (Terms of Service). There’s no point in trying to defend a territory that you never owned in the first place. There’s no point in trying to maintain “market share” when eventually, ten times the number of people in your community will be “outsiders” occupying the same territory.

What you DO HAVE is YOUR COMMUNITY. You have your friends that you’ve made and socialized with and had good times with. You have the relationships you’ve fostered and the feeling of goodwill that flows between your community members. Nurture that and Enjoy It. 😀

Join the Conversation


  1. No brainspace for all your text at the flu-recovering moment, but the idea of it has one idea-spawn to share:
    That all these people are having a passionate social interaction and @ the same time – not working their asses off to the exclusion of live – continue to live life as they make compelling media. Garfield continues to listen and respond even has he documents the film maker. Like that. Media as extension of SELF.

    I love the question and will revisit text when my brain’s healed, too.

  2. Yes. I like your ideas of “not working to the exclusion of life” and “media as extension of self”.

    I think that video is a great example of the potential for online interaction to spawn associations and friendships that are viable and fruitful IRL. 🙂

  3. P.S. You may or may not be familiar with my ideas for transforming the current media workscape as it relates to how many hours a day film makers work, its budget-related immersion requirements. When it costs a crapload less / day for equipment, then you can shoot more days rather than double everything up. Essentially, that means you work two weeks in one week – 70 / 80 hours / week. That’s a lotta overtime. That’s not a lotta time to LIVE.

    It can be done better.

  4. “I think that video is a great example of the potential for online interaction to spawn associations and friendships that are viable and fruitful IRL.”

    One of the first things I noticed about online video makers / making: I wanted to meet ’em in real life. Bad.

    Advertisers leverage this response – frustrated – by juxtaposing their products with folks with whom you will NEVER have a pajama party. Can’t take your favorite film star home with you – no sir – but you CAN take their product.

    Pickin’ & choosin’ your own celebrity pals frees you from that shit. 🙂

  5. Really interesting post and topic, Bill. I enjoyed reading it a lot, it gives much food for thought. Though I would tend to disagree somewhat with your conclusion and premices, I’d need some time to make a more constructive comment.

  6. Hey Otir. 🙂

    Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to hearing your opinions when you formulate them. If it’s a lot of material, “trackback” to this post from a post on your own site, and I’ll read it there. 🙂

  7. Bill, I am currently working on a blogpost about the interactive world and the irl world. But to be franck I write all in French only! I’ll be back in English here when I can.

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