I want to talk about the community bit in online community.
Community is not just about service promotion and raising awareness.
Community is also about service delivery.
Community is also about service delivery.
To see this, we need to look at online community not from a tech frame.
But from a people frame.
We need to see the web as a means to an end.
A means to community.
A means to building relationships.
When YouthNet was founded back in the mid-1990s…
It was founded to take on the challenge of making info and support accessible for the young people who needed it most.
To take on that challenge it has adopted a universal approach – aiming at all 16-25 year olds.
And a holistic approach – covering a broad range of issues that affect the lives of young people.
The web has become a key means to making YouthNet’s approach both universal and holistic.
The web joins up issues affecting the lives of young people, making it easier to put issues into a personal context.
For example, advice givers often focus on issues because that’s how advice services are structured – whereas young people’s starting point is often that the issues affecting their life are profoundly interlinked. The social media equivalent is the Google keyword approach, i.e. a search on Google will usually begin linking young people to info and support in as far as they can be understood as specific issues.
The web joins up people who’re affected by the issues they have in common – while preserving what’s universal about the issues.
For example, communities joining up people in this way reinforce the message ‘you are not alone’. In fact, online communities are a space where the person, rather than the issue they’re affected by, is the focus. This can serve to alter the perception of those not directly affected. The social media equivalent is the Facebook social networking approach, i.e. your starting point is through the people you’re connected with (not necessarily the issues you identify with).
A few years ago now (2004), YouthNet did some research into what young people wanted when seeking info and support.
Out of the responses from young people in this research came the idea of the ideal advisor.
A kind of combination of two distinct personas.
That of the friend.
The ideal advisor’s other persona was that of the expert.
External and objective.
A specialist organisation.
What’s interesting is that within this idea of the ideal advisor lies a basic intuition.
When it comes to info and support – no one person is enough.
A friend is often limited in how objective they can be.
A expert is often limited in just how well they can grasp a personal understanding of the young person’s situation.
Online community though adds something new to the mix. It can blend the values under which friends and experts operate.
And it can challenge some of the age old barriers that have existed between young people and the support and info they need.
It blends values such as:
And it blends values such as:
Online community can challenge barriers such as…
isolationfear of stigmacommunication
understanding accessfear a loss of controlcommunication
What’s interesting is that when you look at these in the round you can see that online community is effectively blending values – discussion and advice, equality and authority, sharing and boundaries. And challenging barriers such as isolation/accessibility, fears of stigma and loss of control, and communication generally. The web is fundamentally a communication tool. Clearly, one reason why the web creates community is because it opens up new opportunities to communicate in different ways.
Online community is enabling this rethink of these personas of friends and experts in info and support services.
It’s also got us thinking at YouthNet about our role.
If you’d asked us all those years ago when YouthNet set up what the aim was of establishing online community- it probably would have been in terms of service provision.
Now with the opportunity to look back- the importance of online community’s potential to facilitate info and support services is much clearer.
Different roles at YouthNet are increasingly driven by how they facilitate services rather than provide them directly.
In fact it’s about facilitating a transformation.
A transformation where those engaged in online communities understand that in the role of ‘friend’ they are themselves a source of support for their peers.
A transformation where those in the role of ‘experts’ learn how to make their services more accessible to young people – in a way that overcomes young people’s practical and personal barriers that stand between them and the info and support services on offer.
In short – the tech may be new but the challenge is the same.
Online community offers us new opportunities.
If we’re prepared to accept that - our role in the challenge of opening up young people’s access to info and support – has changed definitively.
Online Community - Friends and Experts
online community<br />“friends and experts”<br />