What is a community? The first words that spring to my mind are similarities, common interests and values.
As could be seen in the fascinating video from Michael Welsh An anthropological introduction to YouTube , the on line communities also allow to break social conventions and rules of acceptable behaviour which can be redefined through the online media. This allows for communities to be created between people who are not likely to have ever met, disregarding borders and even languages.
Tools that allows people to access material of common interest are all very new and are constantly evolving.
The anonymity of performing in front of a web cam allows people to be themselves and relax without the fear of "the others" and of social boundaries.
Why is this happening? There seem to be to a sense of loss of communities. It is in the human nature to need to feel as part of a genuine group not created artificially by the society such as work, school, university…As Mark Pesce mentioned in This, That and the Other "We are human to the degree we are in relationship with our peers."
However as for everything else, people are learning to manipulate the system for various reasons.
According to Stephen Downes , in Groups and Networks groups are different than network. Networks are without walls/boundaries and their membership is very fluid. According to Stephen, the flow of information in a network is multidirectional instead of unidirectional as it tends to happen in groups. It might be better to use networks in eLearning instead of groups, as it seemed to have been happening at the time when the video was made in 2006. However the technology which allows networks to function is a lot more common in 2009. However Stephen's view of sharing knowledge freely to anyone is idealistic and I cannot imagine a time when my employer would allow me to teach a course for free via eLearning. It is not as he mentions "the rich getting richer and the poor poorer" but the reality of an educational establishment trying to generate enough income to be able to pay its employees.
Mark Pesce explains that the maximum size for a community is 150, after which the group can be described as a mob. This is due to the present limits of the human mind not being able to handle more information. The internet is changing very fast the way we learn and Mark thinks that the institutions not able to adapt to the changes will disappear.
Building Online Communities feels like an instruction manual on how to run an online community such as a Blog. It is full of good ideas and suggestions. I have bookmarked it and will get back to it when I can find some time.