I recently had a great conversation with a friend about the role of community in new media, versus monetization and business. How should someone go about building a community, or joining an existing one, and how important is community?

In old, pre-industrial times, community was everything. The idea of being exiled from a community wasn’t simply being shunned – in many cases, it was a literal death sentence. Community provided not only social outlet, but also supplies, skills, trades, and everything you needed in one small group, and as long as everyone put back into the community as much or more than they took out, the community thrived.

Fast forward to the 21st century. We’re post-industrial, where every person is an island, and the Internet gives us global reach. We don’t need community any more, right? Wrong. Community is more important than ever, because in many respects we’re more alone than ever. You’ve likely seen or had the experience of being in a public place with everyone so plugged in that they’ve tuned reality out. I’ve personally seen people walk into streetlights and traffic while using a Crackberry, or nearly get jumped because the earbuds were a little too loud. Others have posted plenty of video about people walking straight into a water fountain while on their phones.

In the world of digital islands, community is vital once again, as we’re in a digital wilderness. Every day, the rules seem to change, new services appear, old ones die, and without community, we’d be forced to try and survive in the wilderness alone. Having a digital community gives us a place of temporary refuge, a sense of belonging, a social outlet, and many of the survival aspects that old pre-industrial communities granted their participants.

Community is especially vital in troubled times, during economic rough patches, during times of great crisis. Your community can help you identify what to do, where to look, and may even provide resources to you as long as you can do the same.

Marketers be warned: if you forsake community for short term monetization, when you hit a rough spot, the community you passed over will not come to your aid. Build community in addition to monetization, and your experience might be quite different – and better.

For example, in the digital community, finding a job is easier than going it alone. I had this experience recently via a friend’s spouse, who lost a job in an afternoon, had him come to the digital community, and using the resources of the group, found lots of opportunities. For my friend Matthew Ebel, I was able to send out a few hundred inquiries to members of my communities on his behalf for audio work. (incidentally, if you’re looking for scoring, audio engineering, or other top quality audio work, Matthew can be reached here) For PodCamp DC, being able to mobilize a regional part of my community to be aware of the event and consider attending is bringing in a few extra folks.

This is the age of the digital hunter gatherer, and we each are trying to find our way in the digital wilderness. Having a community to support us makes the life of the nomad so much easier.

How do you build community? Give. Mitch Joel calls it Giver’s Gain, others call it the Golden Rule, etc. but it boils down to providing your skills and abilities to the community. Not every skill, not everything you do, just that one thing that you as a community member can do very well, such that others in the community can essentially barter for. Chris Brogan’s skill in community development also means he has the ability to share across a wide network. Jeff Pulver can bring innovation to reality incredibly quickly.

Like the pre-industrial community, you have something to contribute. Identify what it is, then jump into the community pool and see what you can help with. In turn, you might be surprised at the help that’s offered to you, too.

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