Communities of the people: in the cloud and on the streets

In a book that has become required reading for people across a wide range of disciplines, Jono Bacon analyzes the “art of community” as it has developed among people around the world who collaborate in developing open-source software. At the same time that my friends and I have been reading this book, we have also been watching the Occupy Movement as it has taken shape in our city and across the nation. My understanding of the nature of free communities has been significantly enriched by the juxtaposition of these two phenomena.


The leading characteristics of community in the streets have been summarized by historian and ethicist Gary Dorrien:

“The NYC General Assembly is a group of activists, artists, and students involved in the occupation. To the extent that it claims an ideology, it identifies with the anarchist tradition, which shows through mostly in the group’s process: egalitarian, autonomous, leaderless, and committed to a modified model of consensus. The organizers were, and are, determined to operate by at least 80 percent consensus, moving as slowly as consensus requires. They have developed a system of hand signals that enhances communication in group setting and have nurtured a powerful sense of community that many occupiers, including many of my students at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University have experienced as transformative.” Gary Dorrien, “The case against Wall Street,” Christian Century (November 15, 2011, 22-29.

In his fully detailed book–The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation–Jono Bacon describes the characteristics on the art of community in the cloud. My summary of these features:

  1. Focuses the work with a mission statement
  2. Depends upon volunteers donating time and expertise
  3. Requires that contributions improve operation of the electronic systems that are the focus of the community
  4. Gives high priority to merit as recognized by participants in the effort
  5. Recognizes the importance of scientific and technical knowledge and skill
  6. Requires leaders and managers who shape and advance the process
  7. Adapts easily to the specialized needs of business, academic, and scientific institutions

There are similarities and significant differences between these two forms of people-based community. Still another form of broadly based and dispersed community—the church—has its own set of characteristics that make it similar to and sharply different from the cloud-based and street-based communities.

To read my first attempt to think about these forms of community, click here: The Art of Community.

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