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    (December 24, 2001)  For all of the fussing, you'd think that a community was a hard thing to understand. While you can definitely complicate it, a community is as small as the people you think about during the holidays. It's as large as you can stand (although the bigger it is, the more likely you are to feel distant from it). It's relatives, friends, colleagues and those deliciously messy relationships that transcend compartmentalization. While this year was no one's idea of a financial success, it was a good time to think about the meaning of community.

    Our conclusion? You can tell when you're in a community. You can tell when you're out. The feelings are usually strongly mixed and not the stuff of black and white analysis. Community is where the benefit of smallness is always balanced with the implicit level of intrusion. Some people like smallness, others tolerate it and still others flee. In that way, community is relatively self defining.

    Community is an ongoing conversation, whether you participate in it, watch it or ignore it. It evolves. It engages. It protects itself. It is likely to appear cruel to some who don't fit. It is likely to feel embracing to the lucky ones who do. It's hard to see when you're in the thick of it. It's easy to see from outside.

    There are some things a community isn't.

    It isn't a database. It isn't a direct mail campaign tactic. It isn't a clever marketing spin on the same old crap. It isn't a one way relationship. It isn't entirely manageable by an owner. It isn't cold although it might be calculating. It isn't easy to schedule.

    This year we learned some of the things a community is.

    It's the help you get from people you usually ignore. It's the trash, mail and ambulance guys. It's that idiot two doors down. It's those people on the phone in that faraway city. It's their memories when they are not there anymore. It's angry when violated. It's purposeful when forced. It's accommodating within bounds. It's not about monetization (although it can be). It's joy in someone else's successes. It's as confusing and mixed up as love and belongingness. It's about conflict, disagreement, opposing views and compromise.

    This year, we've had a large series of lessons in community and survival. We're hoping that the experiences turn into products so that companies can build communities with the people who work there and hope to work there. Call it what you will, but it's the only way to develop the assurances required to guarantee the longevity of your workforce. There are some examples on the web, more everyday.

    For now, we've ended up in a community ourselves. It's a bizarre mix of electrons and molecules; people we see and those we don't; and, incoming (sometimes unanswered) and outgoing mail. It's a group who are trying, in a variety of ways, to shape new ideas, feeling their way through the darkness while creating businesses and departments of businesses.

    With our warmest wishes, we say "Thanks" for letting us be a part of it.

    - John Sumser

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