Whether we realize it or not, whenever we engage in some activity we are a part of a community of others who are engaging in that activity at the same time. Sometimes we are totally aware of these communities and can witness them like playing soccer on a team or are on an airplane. Sometimes we we are totally aware of these communities but understand them in an abstract sense like when we are stuck in a 4 mile long traffic jam or when we are watching a highly watched TV show. And sometimes we are not aware at all of the larger community like when we are reading the NY Times and are in a temporal community with all other people who are reading the NY Times at that moment.
I would group these three type of communities as the Seen, Known, and the Unknown. In other words, communities that can be seen, communities we are known to be in, and communities we are unknown to be in.
Currently its quite easy to communicate with Seen communities. I can just go up and talk to that person. Communication in this community is only held back by the willingness of its people.
Communication between people in a Known community can be easy or difficult depending on how that community is formed. I won’t dive into this but using the examples above we could further segment this community. For example, communicating with others stuck in that traffic jam is quite difficult. Today, it’d be very difficult to get a signal from a car 500 cars in front of you regarding how traffic is ahead. There are intermediary mediums that help do this like radio but no direct 1:1 communication solution. On the flip side, we are actually able to have a conversation with other people who are watching a specific TV show. Communication tools like Twitter help us talk to one another about what’s happening and we can specify that conversation with hashtags or @ replies/mentions. Granted this communication is not yet seamlessly woven together in the most elegant way, but it does help people form a temporal community around a shared interest.
The third type of community, the Unknown, is a space where technology should be able to come in and help people connect to form temporal communities. We don’t yet have the ability to communicate with others in this community. We can’t connect with people who are interested in going to a movie at the same time in the same area we are in. There are meetup groups but they involve people needing to have an endured interest in that topic. The problem is that a lot of people shift in and out of communities and we don’t have communication tools for those people. I imagine that over the next year or two we will begin to see more applications that help us connect with others in real-time to help turn Unknowns to Knowns but today there is no solid app that would change this. Although we are starting to see glimpses of how formerly Unknown communities are becoming Known.
The TV example above is one where before Twitter this community would not have been able to communicate. Facebook groups and pages allow for likeminded people to topically converse where as before this communication had to be orchestrated by other means. Foursquare let’s people form temporal communities around a location or event and share experiences. Ditto, an iPhone app, also comes really close to connecting people in temporal communities but the experience today doesn’t quite get there. The experience seems too broad to fit anyone’s specific purpose but it is new and hopefully improving.