Do you have a flock, a convoy or a sidecar?

June 29, 2011


Starlings, by t.klick on flickr

I want to write more about online communities, in all their different guises.  I just wrote a neat overview of the mistakes I see people make when they create new communities, but I realised I was probably going too fast for everyone.   I adore communities and at any one time, I’m a member of all kinds of online groups.   I can’t stop looking at them even while I’m in them, always fascinated by what makes them tick.

I believe that there are two main types of online community, and one interesting add-on.

Some communities are flocks.

They flock around a single compelling subject that brings everyone together, whether it’s motorbikes, pregnancy, My Chemical Romance or triathlons. Flocks can stick together over a long period of time, even as older members fade out and new members fade in.

There’s no central narrative to a flocking community, although there may be lots of sub-themes.  There usually ends up being some kind of member hierarchy, whether it’s time served or quantity of opinion expressed.  Senior members may resent newbies.

Other communities are convoys.

In a convoy, everyone starts at the same time, and they move through a common process.  Community content may largely consist of their visible, public reaction to their experience.  Most e-learning and digital workshop communities are convoys.  Many branded research communities are convoys.

The members of a convoy may bond together very tightly through working together, or their connection to each other may remain quite minimal.  Convoys typically have a beginning, a middle and an end.  There’s a story here, a natural life cycle and starting point.

Then there’s the Sidecar.

The Sidecar is the self-managed group, typically set up as an unregulated space for people who don’t have an ‘official’ space.  The methods and approaches are constantly changing, depending on costs.   At the time of writing, I’m seeing lots of Facebook groups being created by women for events that they are part of.  In the past, these have been Ning groups, Yahoo groups and listservs.

Sidecars are often unofficial and self-managed, but they can be official spaces spaces too, when event owners don’t want the time, cost and hassle of creating their own community.

Recognise your community?

They all have their own internal dynamics, their own foibles.  Flocks usually do have a lifespan, but it’s a lot longer than a convoy.  Convoys often think they are flocks, and everyone is surprised when they run out of things to talk about.  And people thrown out of convoys often set up sidecars.

Thoughts?  Does this match your experience, or have I missed something out? Let me know in comments. I want to write more about the business of communities, and I want to make sure that I’ve captured the main types.

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