If you’re in a hurry to decide which medium to use, see practical advice in WhatCommunicationSoftwareToUse. Here we have a more relaxed, theoretical conversation.

Community requires communication, and communication requires a medium.

Persons can interact using many different kinds of media. Some common non-Internet media for community interaction are:

Some Internet media:

Each medium has MediumAttributes, which (together with our understanding of the medium) create certain SocialAffordances?: inclinations over what people decide to do or say when using that medium. (Like the idea that language influences thought: the SapirWhorfHypothesis.)

We believe that CommunityTiedToOneTechnology (one medium) is a problem. We look forward to a day when it’s all just OneBigSoup – where online communities (OnlineCommunity) do not find themselves primarily tied to one medium.


TheMedium and the community

MarshallMcLuhan stipulated that TheMedium is TheMessage?. LawrenceLessig expanded this idea into the world of Internet communities in his book CodeAndOtherLawsOfCyberspace.

Does the choice of medium influences the nature of the community that uses it? What level of TechnologicalDeterminism influences a community?

The human body is an essential part of the medium of human communication. As interface designers have long recognized, sound outside the audible range for the human ear makes no sense to humans not using amplification devices, and image resolution beyond the resolution of the human eye is invisible to humans not using visual instruments.

The capabilities of the human body matter to community. Recognizing this fact helps to bring into focus two types of issues: access for differently abled persons (machine readible for blind persons?) and the typical physical actions that community participation involves (quick mouse movements? real time video gestures? etc.)


Persons regularly communicate across media, across communities, across worlds. Community design, like virtual world design, should consider the relationship between extra-community interactions and intra-community interactions. The human body is always part of the medium. For some thinking about implications of this, see my work “Sense in Communication” at

Marshall Brain thinks we’re going to detach our brains from our bodies.

I think, “Why not?”

But for the time being, I guess we should consider the human body as part of the medium.

I told my girlfriend, “The Internet is a terrible, terrible thing. It reminds me of being in college. I absolutely loved being in college. Interesting ideas, interesting people, all sorts of activity, everywhere!

And she said, “What’s so terrible about that?”

And I said: “It’s terrible because it’s a glass pane sitting in front of you. It hurts your wrists, it hurts your eyes, it hurts to use it. It is physically painful. You can’t talk, you have to type. It is difficult. It is time consuming. It is painful.”

With time,… with time,…

Welcome to CommunityWiki! :)

Older Conversation

I wanted to kind of link up our idea of technologies and media for community.

UserInterface is critical too, I think.

Imagine if you wired up your IRC clients to do IRC over, say, e-mail. Yes, it’s gross. But you could do it, right?

The UserInterface seems more important to me than the back-end technology. The back-end technology limits what the UI can do, but the UI seems to me the primary thing.

(What if you have mixed UIs? I don’t know how to conceptualize that by this model, off the top of my head.)

I’ve imagined that their should be FreeSoftware groups that, all they do, is think about the UI’s they’d like to use, and just do design work. They leave it to other groups to actully code up what they’ve designed.

You knew I would love that proposal. You did that on purpose, eh?

groups that … just do design work.

Yes, that would be cool.

[rant mode = old fogey]

There was once a time that one person could “write an entire program myself” and have something that other people thought was pretty cool.

Now people are so jaded that a person can write a program that enables nearly real-time global collaboration, and people will whine, “WikisAreUgly”.


There are a few projects that almost “just do design work”.

  • Many projects have some sort of “suggestion box” for improvements, especially communication-oriented software projects where the “suggestion box” is also a demonstration of the software. A SpaceForMetaDiscussion. However, since such “suggestion boxes” are attached to one particular project, all ideas are either (a) incorporated into the software or (b) forgotten, even though often it would be better to (c) incorporate the idea into some other project. I suspect this is the reason behind Jamie Zawinski’s Law . I hope that better cross-project communication will find the loophole in that “law”.
  • the
  • the SoftwareBazaar


Define external redirect: SocialAffordances TheMessage

EditNearLinks: CodeAndOtherLawsOfCyberspace TechnologicalDeterminism UserInterface MarshallMcLuhan FreeSoftware SapirWhorfHypothesis OnlineCommunity LawrenceLessig