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October 23, 2012

Community versus Field

I was recently listening to two podcast, both from different sections of my life. Firstly the Coode Street podcast, which is about Science Fiction, mainly literature. Secondly nodeup, a podcast about creating software using the technology called node (it's javascript on the server). Something that may appear relatively inconsequential to other people struck me and got me thinking about the difference between these two communities, or are they fields?

During the Coode Street podcast Jonathan Strahan and Gary Wolfe often refer to other authors by their last name. Not always, but enough to make me notice it. It is also despite them knowing, or having, met the people in question. For example one week they interviewed Paul Kincaid then in episodes after that they switched between using "Paul" and "Kincaid" when referring to him.

During the nodeup podcast other people are referred to by either their first name or their Twitter name. That may sound a bit strange, using Twitter names, but it's amazing how it feels like a much more personal reference even with names like @substack and @dshaw. This may be because they literally do know everyone in the node community, it's relatively small and young and the open source nature of much of the software encourages collaboration. Not sure. But I can't imagine anyone on the podcast ever calling someone by their last name.

Why does it matter? Well, it reminds me of horrible teachers at school. Being called "Bloomer!" is just not very friendly is it? Maybe in "professional" fields that's just what you do? Maybe when a community gets too large you can't get away with using first names? I don't know.

Is a field bigger than a community? On the Coode Street podcast Jonathan and Gary often talk about the Science Fiction field. I'm not sure how you define the difference between a field and a community? On nodeup, which has quite a varying selection of contributors, the people who use node are always referred to as the node community.

It might just be that the interaction when using software is greater. Github enables software developers to immediately interact, fix bugs, use software, converse. The relationship between an author and a reader is perhaps more passive, you get a book you read it, you might tweet them.

I don't know the answers, perhaps it's nothing, but it struck me as interesting: how do you engender a feeling of community in a far flung ad hoc collection of people? Node seems to be succeeding at that.