Stephen Downes is talking about community and wants to reframe our thoughts about community. And he promises to take down the Long Tail. All they are(communities) is proximity, I don’t think that’s what defines a community.

Two major elements are definitive: a network (sense of relation in and among the group) and semantics (these relationships are about something)

(This is paraphrased. Typing as fast as I can, because this is good stufff. Links to audio later.)

Intriguing slide: against the long tail. Here he goes. You’re out there, looking for something to link to, you go out and look, what are you going to link too? Instapundit or Scripting News. These people are getting links because they were first, most likely to be found, links grow. People have talked a lot about the Long Tail. All of the people talking about the value and virtue of the long tail have the unique virtue of not being part of it. Those of us in the long tail would rather not be there.

I don’t see a virtue in the long tail. It’s still a hierarchy . If everyone links to everyone, there’d be no long tail. Preferential attachment occurs only because there is a shortage (attention, time, money, resources). These attachment are, for all practical purposes, random. You reach out for what’s available, rather than for what’s good.

My approach: networks are not a set of random connections, but a set of semantically organized connections.

(He’s also anti-tagging: Take a post, any post and ask yourself what would a graph of all the possible tags for this post look like? A Power Law curve of tags. The meaning of the post becomes whatever tags are sitting there in the big spike of the Power Law. Narrow, one-dimensional look. (My thought: but don’t we rely on intelligent readers to expand the dimensions?)

How do we kill the big spike? How do we transform tagging? What’s happening in on-line learning, shift from centralized, place-based, to something more distributed. Learning resources available out there on the network. Looking for a way to recognize the post/resources that are salient to us as individuals.

Theory of community:

1. a mean of organizing input and experience
2. a mechanism for putting that experience into context
3. a means of creation, of being part of someone else’s experience.

Solution: add author metadata to blog posts. (Semantic social network)

And add metadata created by authors of posts and metadata created by readers of post. (Comments as metadata?) As much as possible third party metadata is created automatically through contextual use.

UPDATE: Interesting, thought-provoking session, although few in the audience seemed ready to buy in. Interesting “loudness” match (as opposed to flat-out shouting match) during the Q&A between Downes and Marc Canter. I’ll see if a transcript of the audio would make any sense. Note to self re: audio: don’t type blog posts while trying to record with an omnidirectional mic.