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

Recently, I have been debating with Chris Brogan ( – president of New Marketing Labs ( 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.


  1. Joe Wagner says:

    I feel we have more channels now in our daily lives than communities. This is also very relevant to our business lives. There are still vendors I would prefer to use over others as they always seem to have the correct answers and solutions at the right time.

    I love newspapers and would hate to see them leave us. But, I can handle change.

  2. Stephen,

    Your arguments speak to my frustrations with Twitter. Channel communications make sense to me on a Twitter scale. Twitter is my personal Rubik’s cube (did I just date myself or what). There is plenty of “AHA moments” in there, my remote is simply having difficulty tuning the digital reception. Your arguments frame the peace of mind that large #’s of us seek as channel listener. Although, Twitter is often surfed to expand horizons, it fails often to provide me with a tuning tool that can be deployed to pursue the digital high-quality contributors to my interest.

    Thank you for stretching my mind. You’ve won my vote!

  3. Will you follow-up with Chris’s perspective? It strikes me that not hearing his point of view, by default, means that I am not entirely understanding it.

    Be great today, Stephen.

    Owen Lawson’s last blog post..Online Networking Reloaded!

  4. Marty Glover says:

    Great post, I agree with the conclusion.

    The current expansion of communities reminds me of the old rock in the water phenomenon, big splash, with waves moving outward diminishing with time. Each new wave of social media communities has diminished in impact over time as the growing numbers diminish the focus and thus the actual sense of community. Communities are defined by the fact that the participants have a homogeneous nature and purpose, everyone can’t be part of the in crowd by definition.

    The second phenomenon is the interaction of the waves from these rocks diminish each other as they overlap, communities that are weakened ebb slowly away as they might touch the center of the next community.

    A channel can sustain because it’s natural diffusion is overcome by leadership. The wave is not diffused, it is constantly reinforced creating direction, a wake rather than a wave, that is an ongoing invitation to new members to follow and participate.

    Now I won’t have to do my blog entry this week. :)

  5. i wonder if the difference between community and channel resides in the derivation { or use } of the mediaspace …

    for instance, communities are started by the people for the people … i imagine they can be started by a business for the people, or by an organization for the people … but perhaps the fact that they are ‘for the people’ … less of the traditional broadcast mentality of ‘we put it out there, you watch | read | witness, its done’ and more of the participatory intersection of many thoughts, many minds … maybe that is the notion of a community … more of a ‘down | up’ concept i guess … a space that nurtures + creates leaders

    a channel seems to imply the ‘top | down’ trickle + flow …

    i’m sure that leaders can emerge from both communities + channels … i’m not even sure if labeling these online experiences helps anyone { your average user, at least } differentiate in their mind’s eye what they are participating in or going to …

  6. Kathleen Ramirez says:

    My opinion is that you have a pull/push dynamic between channel and communities. Channels are critical in that it can provide almost a sense of organziation for people. They are the starting point for the content people are choosing to embrace and digest. They are in in a sense pulling in the content that is important to them. The push comes about with communities. This push, for lack of a better word is related to the opinions, arguements, agreements, etc. that will continue to happen. Bottome line…both are important, both will continue to thrive. Happy Easter!!!