Thursday, June 7, 2012

Book Review: The Art of Community

Bacon, Jono. The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation. O’Reilly, 2009.
           Bacon became fascinated with Ubuntu, Linux, and the open source world, learned as much as he could about it (largely self-taught), and started teaching others, through articles, podcasts, blogs, discussion forums, and now this book.  Bacon’s concern in the book is the power of community.  Given that so many pundits are heralding a new age of collaboration, unlimited by geographical boundaries, how does one go about organizing those who are interested in a given cause?  Bacon has been involved with several online communities, and this book is basically a how-to manual about forming a community that will last, produce, collaborate, and even get along. 
            Bacon describes each step toward building a complex, multi-functional community.  He asserts that these communities can be formed around any interest, on- or off-line, but it appears to me that the primary audience of the book will be those few who are actually running, or contemplating running online communities (as well as those of us who are interested in how the internet environment is shaping collaboration).  He uses plenty of examples, so the book avoids sounding like a list of instructions; in addition to listing the necessary steps, Bacon offers comments from his own experiences, both positive and negative.
            Bacon has a fortunate combination of technical expertise and writerly love for language.  He recognizes that, as he puts it, “the mechanism behind communication in a community is stories” (8).  I imagine that part of the reason for his success in the open source world is his (unusual, for a techie) recognition of the value of human connection; he knows that while some programmers are programming for open source to scratch an itchy bug, even these guys will appreciate being accepted, encouraged, and appreciated by the members of their community.   He encourages the leaders of the community to recognize this and to take intentional steps to make it happen. 3/5*


  1. Ravelry is an online community of knitters which has grown way beyond its originators' early concepts. I think it provides an excellent socializing service to home knitters who are often very isolated, plus keeps hobby knitters current with trends. It is interesting that we social creatures can find so many different ways to make community--even the negative flash mob communities formed using cell phone technology.

  2. You're right, Kathy. I do think that "community" is easier to do online (at least for introverts like me). And I put the quotes there to mean that it is community that only goes so far. Community in real life, when you can't just push a button to make it go away, is much more difficult to achieve!