The Lure of CommunityThe technology sector has been infatuated with the idea of online social interaction and community for some time now. However, companies and organizations in other sectors have been wary of investing time and resources in this area until now.
There have been some notable successes - such as beinggirl from Procter & Gamble - but most of those have been aimed at consumers. Will those same ideas cross over and work for professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, architects, journalists and so on?
The Counter-ArgumentIn fact, there are already some examples of Web 2.0 communities for professionals, such as iMedExchange and Akropolis.net, but they have not yet achieved significant penetration within their markets.
The main argument from the skeptics: these highly-paid professionals are already busy with their jobs and practices, with keeping up with their field, and day-to-day activities. How will they find the time to go to these communities and just hang out, answering peers' questions and "gathering karma"?
On that point, I tend to agree - independent communities are going to face a steep curve taking off, even with the new Internet-friendly, Web 2.0-saavy generation that's slowly seeping into the professional workplace. It's a chicken-and-egg problem: until there is a compelling reason for successful professionals to belong to and participate in an online community, they won't want to spend their expensive time within it; it is precisely this participation, though, which is needed to provide significant value back to community members.
Evolution, not RevolutionMy guess is that community participation will increase, even for specialized professionals, but in another form. As mainstream web applications start to include community features, such as user comments, voting and collaboration, the concept of online community will slowly bleed into the work-flow and tools that these professionals already use. In other words, future success stories will involve online locations that are already successful, where users can get involved within a specialized community - almost imperceptibly at first, and then with increasing participation as the value grows for everyone. These are the communities that will grow and thrive.
Are there examples of popular existing sites for professionals, where this is already happening?