Random Thoughts

Audience as Community

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Flickr: Spiderpops
Flickr: Spiderpops

So I read Dean Shareski’s post Why Audience Matters earlier today and just finished reading Clarence’s follow up post and thought I’d add to the conversation as well.

Dean does a great job talking about the different roles an audience can play and I’d like to extend his list.

Audience as Community

Your audience becomes a community when audience members start to repeatedly visits your blog or site. A community forms around your content. A community that becomes interested in what you have to say, follows your thoughts, or ideas, and is committed to you in some way. Be it an RSS feed, a “friend” or a “follower”. A community becomes powerful as there is a sense of purpose to your writing. There are people waiting to hear from you. Take the president/prime mister of any country, or a blog like TechCrunch. A community will wait for your words, wants to know what you have to say, and relays on you for information and ideas.

Very few students see audience as community in the educational/creation space. Although they totally understand it in Facebook, hence the reason you MUST update your profile so many times a day…the community is waiting for it!

A community of followers or readers is a powerful learning tool. It’s the reason why some of us in the blogosphere continue to blog. We have a community of people that we feel obligated to blog for. Whether true or not, there is a sense of obligation to people who have bookmarked your site or have your RSS feed. Audience as Community allows you to engage that audience into becoming what Dean calls an “Audience of Co-Learners“, or an “Audience of Teachers“. I believe before you can have either of those audiences you need to have an audience as community. Only after you have turned your audience into a community can you make something of them, empower them to help you, to teach you, to learn with you. Without that community they are just an “Audience as Eyeballs“. Much of this thinking comes from Seth Godin’s book Tribes which I highly recommend (the audio book via iTunes or Audible is my favorite).

Both Clarence and Dean talk about students and their views on audience. I also like Chrissy Hellyer’s comment on Clarence’s blog about age being an issue.

Yes….5th graders still check their Whos Amung Us maps to see if they have any new readers. Audience as Eyeballs is motivation for them…as I have found it for 4th and 3rd graders as well. Audience as Eyeballs also seems to work on YouTube no matter what the age. As the comments on most videos aren’t worth reading, the actual eyeballs on your video count.

Clarence does make a great point about students coming into our classrooms already with global connections via Facebook, XBox live, etc. Many of these connections are Audience as Community. That is there is a community of player around a game on the XBox, or any MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game).

I do believe we need to be teaching students the importance of audience. Whether it’s looking for a job, applying to a university, or blogging your thinking in school. Understanding audience and the power of creating a community around your content is something we should be teaching, should be discussing in our classrooms. The power of an audience brought Hitler to power, and at the same time elected President Obama. Audience is a powerful thing…from brands, to words, to videos, to music…..audience is worth studying.

Clarence for example has branded his classroom with Idea Hive and continues to build a community around his classroom both with his students who blog within and the classrooms they connect with around the world. An Audience as Community that leads to co-learning and teaching.

Of course teachers need to understand audience as well. Audience as Community is important for any teacher. Your community of parents can be powerful allies or enemy depending on how you engage them….or lack of engagement within a space…be it your classroom or class website.

Do we take time to teach students about Audience? The power they have both positively and negatively? Do we talk about how audience is changing do to the connectiveness of the web? Are we helping students to create positive audience interactions that help to form a community and lead to learning? I sure hope so….because audience matters.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Pingback: Rob McCrae

  2. I reflected on your opening “Your audience becomes a community when audience members start to repeatedly visits your blog or site. A community forms around your content.” I have spent considerable time reflecting upon notions of community, and I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that an audience becomes a community by coming back (over and over). One thing I’m trying to get my students to see is that a community forms around common identity, communication, and common experience. For this to happen in the case you describe, I believe the audience has to give something back to the blog author: comments. Comments are what changes an audience (even a dedicated one, but still consumers of information) into a true community–when I read, not only to get, but also to give, information–to interact, not merely spectate. This is what produces community. Of course, the repeat visiting is a pre-requisite to community, and the comments can be very off-putting and derogatory rather than those that actually build common experience and identity, but it would seem that viewing posts without response produces only a very fledgling experience of community.
    I very much appreciate reading your posts; please keep writing (and I will keep writing back!) 🙂

    • I’m going to disagree with you here, just because I think I agree with you (if that makes sense).

      Does an audience need to be actively involved to be a community?

      I think of a neighborhood. Everyone that lives in that neighborhood is part of the community whether active or not. Some will be active, while others will not be.

      I think about the number of blogs that I have in my RSS reader. Many of them I have never commented on, but still feel that I am part of that community because I follow what other people follow and am interested in what others that read those blogs are interested in as well.

      I don’t know….maybe we just splitting hairs at this point. Thanks for pushing my thinking.

  3. What happens when we turn this on its head? Instead of audience as community we have community as audience? I tend to draw a thick line between having an “audience” for student work and having a “community.” I do not believe that the first is as important as the second. I think teaching students about audience is valuable and important. But I would rather have students working in a community than working on collecting an audience.

    • Interesting…..and I think they are both important. Which one is more important? I’m not sure. An “audience as eyeballs” is not as important as an “audience as community”. But I do think both have power, whether it be motivational or monetary…there is something to an audience.

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  6. Thanks for extending these ideas. It’s a weird and yet powerful feeling you get when you write something and know that someone is going to improve upon it.

    We tend to think of spaces like wikis and google docs as collaborative spaces but trackbacks are also a very real collaborative effort.

    Excellent work Jeff.

    • Ah…yes…it reminds me of the old days of blogging. When conversations and ideas like this use to be what blogging was really about. I don’t think we do this enough. Great thinking Dean and thanks for the idea.

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  11. Dean, Clarence, JeffI have read the entire thread of posts and your thoughts are definitely some that I have had about encouraging our students to read, write and reflect online.  In my context, I believe we are still far from the saturation point but I agree with Jeff’s comments about really teaching students about the role and impact of audience on our writing in digital and traditional contexts.  I’m thinking that the audience must always be the “eyeballs” but when they engage in dialogue or personal reflection, that is when they become community.  As an online learner it is the shift from eyeballs to community that motivates the learning.  Thanks for the thoughtful writing!

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