So what exactly do I mean by "The Commoditization of Community Experience"? I'll start from the top. According to Investopedia Commoditization is -- "When a product becomes indistinguishable from others like it and consumers buy on price alone." Now this is all well and good, but we need to take one more step back before we can accept "commodity" as relevant.
First we must recognize what the internet has allowed us to do. In previous times people did not have the power of choice over their associations. You live where you lived and you lived with those people around you regardless of your feelings about them. Your neighbor was your neighbor and chances are you would go out of your way to stay on good terms with them, even if you didn't necessarily feel that way. Such action are taken in the interest of the preservation of community.
- - -
Now fast forward, the internet has connected everyone to everyone else. Now "community" is rended from its once solid foundation in place. Now we no longer need to congregate at the same location in order to "share" in "community." Why all the quotation marks? Our experience of online "community" is so much more individualized and choice driven that it at the very least should invite the redefinition of "community".
Back to our definition, we have an incredible power over community that we didn't have before, choice, or in economic terms, "community," has become liquid.
Now that community is defined as a liquid asset, what does this mean? I think a prime example that shows what this entails is Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir. Here we have a "community" of individuals who are laced together by a webmaster's singular vision. Next question, how does one access this community? The participants must produce a product in order to join the community. Beyond that this product must fit within strict guidelines or else that "expression product" will be censored from the community.
In the end this "community" exists out of step with traditional notions of time. The expression producers are simultaneously both contributors and audience members. This community would not exist without the principles behind Avatars. After all, our avatars or "expression products" are what we share in the community and not our actual selves. Think, would this choir project be more or less powerful if all these individuals were to actually come together in both time and place? And to think that this mere suggestion is offensive to some tech types! To which I would respond -- it is what it is.
I chose this example since it clearly highlights the processes of the web, I've mentioned before lots of other examples that involves more or less censorship and disjunction; however, I feel this example pristine. It clearly illustrates how we relate to, and might not have the control over our own online avatars.
Thus online "community" is really the sharing of a commoditized expression. You might point out that you need a currency in order for something to become a commodity. I agree, yet currency does not need to be monetized. On the internet we have much much more at stake in our trades. While online we trade on our actual reputations.
This is also where many of the problems and misunderstandings of the online world come from. Anything related to a reputation is bound to be highly polarized and political. Thus those who are site owners and webmasters have a strong interest in maintaining their reputation, in essence they have become politicians. This interest is what leads to the "just plain annoying" clause in most forum posting rules. Any attack on someones character might or might not be tolerated by the community, either way what matters is the moderator's thoughts. He or she would have the power to ban such a person "just because."
So this is how we commoditize our online community. Through our avatars we trade in the currency of our actual reputations. Our avatar's are products, and the traditional notion of community has been dumped on its head. We should take heed, and perhaps we should find some more descriptive term for this radically new notion of "community"