Truth, vulnerability, and acceptance

The past few weeks have made it clear that independent online communities are enormously rewarding and challenging. is no longer able to pay for full-time developers, but intends to maintain the platform indefinitely. Our friend, Andre Torrez, announced that MLKSHK, the wonderful photo sharing community he started in 2010, will close. MetaFilter, the long-running community blog, was forced to layoff staff due to declining ad revenue, but may find a brighter future through member support. And there are other hopeful signs. set out to raise $30K to bring the site back to life and instead received over $95K.

In a recent interview, Andre offered this perspective, "We went in with our convictions and we get to go out with them. I always wanted a chance to do that and I will certainly do it again if the opportunity comes up. Our first goal was make a nice place that people wanted to keep coming back to."

We exist to be in community with other people. We've been figuring out what that means for thousands of years; we've been figuring out what that means online for about 30. There is so much to learn, new ideas to try and old ideas to revisit. It's a thrilling and foolhardy endeavor.

Wherever we see new communities start to take root, let's spread the word, cheer them on, and help them grow. Some will be brief, setting the stage for others to come. Some will thrive for years. All are worthy projects, with remarkable potential for good.


Last week's dispatch asked, What do your favorite communities (online and offline) have in common? These are challenging and often inspiring descriptions about what defines a great community. Thanks to each of you for helping shape Uncommon through these compelling visions.

Shawn wrote:

My favorite communities are ones of mutual, interdependent respect, acceptance, empathy, and love leading to learning and growth. One fosters all and all foster the one. Individuals' stories are valued and honorably woven with care into a tapestry of the collective story of the community. The resultant emotional safety and sharing lends to deeply meaningful connection and understanding of what it means to be me, to be you, and to be us. And the cycle progresses all into more fully realized human beings and communities.

Lara wrote:

What I love about my favorite communities, and my favorite people in general is their level of comfort with things that are a bit different. The thing that drives me more than anything, is trying to understand (people, systems, why things are as they are), and those who don't accept the standard for granted create interesting places, experiences and networks that facilitate this for me with ease.

Kevin wrote:

Surprise is the element I cannot do without. Boundaries are an important part of my communal expectations as an organized purveyor of of this world but every now and then jumping the fence and bring back something awesome and new to the community is essential. Surprise is that element that makes me lean into a group a little more and helps me realize that every community is living and growing and adding and reshaping.

Karen wrote:

My favorite communities whether online or physical share a single trait: the connections formed are genuine.  Authenticity - not in its current buzzword form, but its root: set in truth, vulnerability, and acceptance - is essential to true connection.  I can't fathom community without it.

John wrote:

All the good communities somehow combine (a) something valuable for the members with (b) a bigger purpose. The something valuable can be career advancement, the enjoyment of conversation, or just Internet points, but there always something in it for the participants. And there is always some sort of bigger picture, even if it's the advancement of fly fishing. When companies try to create communities (artificial reefs?) they often forget both of these characteristics.

Danielle wrote:

I found the answer to this dispatch question really simple: "Things I love." But then I questioned myself, is it that I love them or that I am just very familiar with them and found friends from within it that connected me to it? If friends were removed, would my answer be the same? Online communities would seem to have less personal connection than in-person communities like work or spiritual groups. So, some things are about the people (coffee/church) and some can be more about the action (rowing/cycling); at least, as the initiators into that community.

Sam wrote:

My wife and I have been talking a lot about community... To spare the details, we have been in a hover pattern since our twins were born last Fall, and are just now looking to move out of our temporary situation into something more rooted. We've been living in isolation, and are very excited to be moving towards community... which in our minds is a place where good food and drink is surrounded by delicious conversation.

Andrew wrote:

My house was burglarized yesterday for the second time in four years. My Dad's laptop, my Kindle, my Nintendo DS, and an assortment of incidentals were stolen. In the wake of it my family has received nothing but loving support from our friends. One friend (not even a particularly close one) even offered me a place to stay if I wanted to be somewhere else. My favorite communities are like this. Friendly and supportive. When I was around twelve or thirteen I started using internet forums, at some point stumbling on one called "Frunkspace." Eventually I became friends with the admin, and we ended up starting a new forum called "37" together. The community, though small (there were eighteen of us at its core) was the best one I've experienced online, because our group wasn't about anything. There was no pretext for our association, it was just a group of misfits who all happened to get along, and who made a website to hang out. It didn't last forever, and after some time we drifted apart, but I'm still friends with some of them, and I know that if I contacted them about making another forum they'd probably say yes.<br><br>The thing I've found most distasteful about internet communities is the feeling like I'm being lied to. That I'm not talking to a person but to some "public face." I understand that there are working professionals on the internet who maybe use Twitter/Facebook/etc. for work (and therefore want to showcase professionalism), but why does professionalism have to come with a straightjacket? Why can't people just be people? I've been away from Uncommon for a while, and it was only on a whim that I opened this email instead of moving it to my archive (a sad result of my own frustrations with email overload). I'm glad I opened it. I have a feeling Uncommon is just the kind of community I'm looking for.

Ryan wrote:

My most frequently-used online community is Twitter; my favorite meatspace community is a weekly meeting called simply “Discussion Group”, which meets at a local social club. Both offer my favorite leisure activity: the exchange of ideas. While Twitter works best for truncated, reductive thoughts fired back and forth in short-lived succession, Discussion Group takes the form of an hour-long, slow-paced conversation, in which extensive and nuanced deliberation can thrive. In either case, though, I continually find myself in contact with ideas I would not have considered apart from the influence of that community, and hopefully that makes me, in the long term, a more thoughtful, wise, and well-rounded person.

Brad wrote:

I love this question. I think my favorite communities share only a couple things. First, an appreciation of quality and fine things, whether thoughts, whiskey, relationships or experiences. Second, a predilection for thoughtfulness and grace, with a healthy appreciation of perspective above all else. Of the many circles to which I belong, my favorites always share these qualities, because they are a direct reflection of my most closely held values. Quality and perspective are among the most important things of which I can conceive, and I enjoy immensely the rewards from seeking these out in others.

Uncommon reads

Faking Cultural Literacy by Karl Greenfeld:

What we all feel now is the constant pressure to know enough, at all times, lest we be revealed as culturally illiterate. So that we can survive an elevator pitch, a business meeting, a visit to the office kitchenette, a cocktail party, so that we can post, tweet, chat, comment, text as if we have seen, read, watched, listened. What matters to us, awash in petabytes of data, is not necessarily having actually consumed this content firsthand but simply knowing that it exists — and having a position on it, being able to engage in the chatter about it.

Who gets to graduate? by Paul Tough:

Doubts about belonging and doubts about ability often fed on each other, and together they created a sense of helplessness. That helplessness dissuaded students from taking any steps to change things. Why study if I can’t get smarter? Why go out and meet new friends if no one will want to talk to me anyway? Before long, the nagging doubts became self-fulfilling prophecies.

You’re probably using the wrong dictionary by James Somers

Notice, too, how much less certain the Webster definition seems about itself, even though it’s more complete — as if to remind you that the word came first, that the word isn’t defined by its definition here, in this humble dictionary, that definitions grasp, tentatively, at words, but that what words really are is this haze and halo of associations and evocations, a little networked cloud of uses and contexts.<br><br>What I mean is that with its blunt authority the New Oxford definition of “pathos” — “a quality that evokes pity or sadness” — shuts down the conversation, it shuts down your thinking about the word, while the Webster’s version gets your wheels turnin.

Storytelling Is A Magical, Ruthless Discipline by Zadie Smith:

Sometimes I think my whole professional life has been based on this hunch I had, early on, that many people feel just as muddled as I do, and might be happy to tag along with me on this search for clarity, for precision. I love that aspect of writing.

Your turn

What have you changed your mind about recently?