Community is a word you’ll hear all over the internet. You’re part of a community on Twitter. Blog networks are a community. Your blog’s comment section is a community. The whole blogosphere is a community.
You’ll also hear that you should be part of these communities. You should be contributing. You should be giving others a leg up. Do your part! Join in! Show that community spirit!
But I’ve been wondering lately – exactly what is this community everyone’s talking about? Who is in this community? What does being a community mean? What are we all supposed to be working towards? Who started this community in the first place?
I bet a lot of you have that blank look on your faces right now. “Well… uh… Community. You know. The good of all. And… Well, we’re working towards… umm… building a community, James… You know.”
No. I don’t know. Someone explain it to me. I’d be much obliged.
What is the Blogging Community?
No one has been able to give me a satisfactory answer to this question yet. They sure can tell me when I’m not being an active member of the blogging community, though. I have people every day asking me for donations, free support, cut rates, volunteer work, blog posts written for no pay.
Free copy. Free design. Free marketing. Free promotion. For the community.
And if I don’t accept these requests – many of which come from people I have never even heard of before they came to me with their hand out – I’m suddenly accused of not “contributing to the community.”
What the hell?
When did I become the bad guy just because I won’t give a complete stranger free stuff? What did I do to deserve a guilt trip?
Many of these people have a self-assured attitude, too. They really think they have the right to ask for free goods. They feel they deserve it. They’re shocked when I decline. They’re hurt and dismayed. They’re disappointed.
How could you, James? How could you betray the community?
Look. I think that what we have here is a definition breakdown. Betrayal is turning your back on something you promised to uphold. If I ever made a promise to uphold the blogging community’s needs, I’d like to see the transcript of that press conference.
Screw community, I say.
Communities That Are Worth Contribution
Now, I’m not saying that all communities aren’t worth the effort. Don’t get up in arms, there. I’ve had great experiences contributing to my local community, for instance. Right now, it’s desperately trying to get better playground equipment for its parks.
I know what’s at stake – X dollars gets X equipment and if I contribute, my kid gets a great place to play and I get a great place to read a book on a bench in the sun. Awesome.
My local community doesn’t make me feel guilty if I don’t contribute. No one comes to ask for my money or my time, either. They put an ad in the paper. Contribute or not, if you like the cause. I don’t have an obligation to fork out because I live in this town. I could ignore the whole idea completely, if I wanted.
And I’d still be seen as a fine, upstanding member of the community.
Of course, I’d feel bad if I used the park anyway when I could have helped out. They just gave me something for free. I feel like I should give back to those guys. We’ll help each other out. It’ll be great.
So what does the blogging community give back?
Selflessness is Not a Business Proposition.
I’ve had people shocked – shocked! – that I wouldn’t lose my time, lose billable hours, lose money, take focus away from my business and give away my work for the community.
Note: not “for a reciprocal pat on the back.”
I’d be cool if they wanted to trade a free blog post for some ad space on their site, for example. If they want to make an argument that I’ll get new readers if I help them out, I’d love to hear about it. Tell me the marketing plans, the predicted growth, the risk investment stats.
I am all about “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” We need not bring money into this.
But I do need to get something out of it. Sorry.
Now, if you ask these people what they’re giving, they’ll say that contributing to the community is its own reward. That’s my benefit. I gave to the community. They got free stuff. Warm fuzzies all around.
People who toss the C-word around never seem to have anything of value to give back for the value they want to receive. They want my time and effort, they want me to build their success for them, but they have absolutely nothing to offer me in return.
They are – and there’s no beating around the bush here – deadbeats.
A deadbeat, for those of you who have never had someone camp out on your sofa, is the guy who wants you to give him money for his great idea.
Now, this idea may never quite get off the ground, but in the meantime, this guy believes you should support him while he tries. He tells you a sob story, gets money off you, sleeps under your roof, eats your food, and buys lots of unnecessary stuff without making any real steps towards achieving his great idea.
Deadbeats have taken this brilliant concept to the internet.
They just started a blog, or a new site, or some membership program. They don’t want to put in the time and effort it takes to build a legitimate readership from scratch. They have no money. Just a great idea. They want other people to invest instead. They want someone else to put in the time and effort on their behalf.
They want to ride on someone else’s success.
They say things like, “We want to build this for the community. And your contribution will go a long way towards helping us get there.”
Let’s translate that, shall we?
“Hi. I have no money, I have no skills. I have no readers. I have no traffic. There’s no guarantee my venture will work. It may never work. But if you work for free for me, you can enjoy a sense of personal fulfillment because you helped build something great for the community.”
Wow. What a concept. When I started three years ago, I had to build my business through blood, sweat and tears. You mean we can get free businesses these days? Just for being part of the community?
Screw That. I Want My Own Community.
Hey, everyone! I just formed a community! It’s awesome. You’d like it. We’re full of sunshine and sweetness. There are heaps of warm fuzzies. We even do group hugs on Tuesdays. We could have a mascot, too. Maybe a cuddly panda bear on a pile of jelly beans. Awww!
Aren’t you glad you’re part of this community?
Okay, now that the fuzzy bit’s out of the way, let me see here . . .
I need 5 bloggers, 4 copywriters, 3 coders, 2 designers, a bookkeeper, a financial consultant and two market research pros. Oh, and an SEO guy. You can all start today, too! There’s no money in it, but I’ll give you a link on my as-yet-not-built-unknown-brand-new site.
Wooo. A link. Exciting, huh? I know!
Since it doesn’t currently have any traffic or readers besides the ones you’ll be sending me, you won’t get anything out of it for at least six months or so. Maybe even a year. Wait, though! You have the chance to promote the hell out of my site and make all your own readership go somewhere else to read your posts, but whatever!
Aren’t you glad you’re part of this community? You didn’t even have to join!
This is a brilliant plan.
I’m Not a Complete Ass
I get that it’s nice to help other people when you can. I do my share – I offer this blog right here, full of all sorts of excellent expertise, knowledge and advice that millions of people can use to their own personal and financial benefit.
This blog is free. It is also time-consuming. It is demanding. It loses me money every time I write a post. I do it because it helps you guys out.
Off the blogosphere, I help the needy. I donate to Kiva and the Alzheimer’s Society and the SPCA. Even the War Amps (they really do send your keys back in the mail). In return, I feel like I help make the world a better place for me, my kids, my family and my friends. That’s what I get back from those contributions.
So far as I can tell, helping your brand new post aggregator or marketing blog or copywriter website hit the top ranking page of Google does absolutely JACK to improve anyone’s world but yours.
Let’s not bullshit, here. When you ask me to give you free stuff to make your website or blog or whatever get more readers or business, it’s not for the community.
It’s for YOUR profit and success.
That is not community, to me. “Community”, last I checked, involved more than one person. Unless you can convince me that more people than YOU benefit from my hard work and help, screw off.
Now, if I’m wrong about this ‘community’ crap, then set me straight. Show me the noble goals of the blogging community. Get me a member roster and a statement of purpose.
Then I’ll decide if it’s worth it for me to contribute.
Screw the blogging community. I’m gonna go take my kid to the park.