Communities or Channels – that is the question of the day…

Recently, I have been debating with Chris Brogan (www.chrisbrogan.com) – president of New Marketing Labs (www.newmarketinglabs.com) about the difference between communities and channels and which will be the future of internet communications.  While I believe “pure” communites have their place – particularly in social settings, I am becoming a firm believer that is the channels that are the true future of the Internet.

First – the definition

Before I explain my thinking, let me first explain the differentiation as I see it.  Communities, in their truest sense, are made up of a large number of equally important individuals meeting each other, sharing ideas, and communicating with and amongst each other.  While a community might havea community manager and / or a community leader, all people are – for all intents and purposes – treated equal.  Channels – on the other hand - still have many of the same aspects of community – the ability to communicate, comment, share ideas, and connect – but they are focused on a certain, designated group of content providers who formulate the thought leaders of the group.

Why I think Channels are the future…

With that definition in mind, here is my reasoning behind Channels over communities.  When communities were small and the sharing of ideas was concise, the ability to read all, identify the poignant ideas, and get the most value out of the community site was possible and very accomplishable.  But now, as communities have grown, it is becoming increasingly impossible to discern who is providing quality content and who one should read versus the noise of the larger community.  Take – for instance – Twitter.  While most Twitter users are following hundreds of people, they are truly only following a select few people and paying much looser attention to the others.  In fact, for new Twitter users – the first questions are always the same – who should I follow – who is worth listening to.  They are readily admitting that while they will follow many, they will only listen to some.   The same is true in most other community sites where the numbers are sizeable.

Is this a new phenomenon?

I would argue – it is not.  For those of us who used to read the newspaper (and those who still do) – is this not a channel?  By choosing which newspaper to read, were we not choosing who was “important to listen to”?  And for those who watch TV – are we not making that choice all the time?  Yes.  It is not different.  In fact – even in our social lives and school lives – we chose – amongst all of the people we have met – who to spend time with – who to share ideas with – who to “listen to”.

So why is this important?

I believe it to be important for the following reason – as everyone is trying to figure out the new communications mechanism that are arising with the proliferation of social media and social platform tools – those that choose to create these platforms and tool with a channel-centric perspective will emerge victorious.  Their content will be considered the most useful, their site the most valuable, and their business the winners.