From I to We – The Rise of Communities

“Offering sanctuary is a revolutionary act; it expresses love, when others offer scorn or hate. It recognizes humanity, when others deny and seek to debase it. Sanctuary says ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. It is belonging—the building block of community.”

Diane Kalen Sukra in Save Your City: How Toxic Culture Kills Community & What to Do About It

Among all the other advantages that human beings have enjoyed to emerge as the most dominant species on the planet, the power of building communities is definitely one. While historically, the power of groups appeared in the forefront in landmark incidents like the Sepoy Mutiny (1857) – much recently, collective opinions and strength has been reflected in the ongoing protests in the farming community pertaining to the Farm Reform Bills (2020). As Yuval Noah Harari pointed out in his book “Sapiens”, the ability to form groups and collectives is a key factor for growth. And this is exactly what is happening in the digital world too.

When Mark Zuckerberg laid the foundation of Facebook, the approach was centered around a profile based platform for personalized interactions among users. But a few years down the line, Facebook soon realized how collective associations can unlock far wide-reaching impacts than singular pages or profiles. Over time, a bulk of content on the social media platform started emerging from groups. From something as generic as Wrestling to something as niche as craft beer or memes – groups helped to attract similar minded users and grow the platform organically, as much as they helped to increase the engagement time of each group member.

Facebook announced last year that it’s users are now engaging with more content from groups in lieu with the networking giants shift toward meaningful communities. From 100 million in February 2017, it now found more than 400 million people in groups.

Even Microsoft owned LinkedIn, which was started by Reid Hoffman to replicate the formal nitty-gritties of the offline corporate world on an online canvas for employers and employees, couldn’t shake off the growing demand for incorporating a group structure in the otherwise profile dominated social media platform. Early last year, LinkedIn revamped and relaunched a new version of it’s LinkedIn Groups, buoyed down by demand for professional online communities.

For that matter, even Reddit, which started off as a bulletin based social news aggregator and web content rating site, now boasts of more than 100,000 online communities, with users collaborating on mutual interests varying from support for new parents to baking tips and product recommendations.

The Era of We, a report published by GlobalWebIndex, suggested that online communities in 2020 are more powerful and impactful than ever, with a visible shift from me-centric conversations to we-centric conversations – mainly because they fill a void for self-expression that is lacking in normal day-to-day social media interactions. Having similar minded people in the community fosters healthy conversations.

The Pandemic on its own did a lot to drive in the importance of community-based platforms, given the feeling of loneliness that prevailed amidst the lockdown. Family Whatsapp groups bubbling with queries on well-being to Telegram groups abuzz with suggestions for new movie releases, digital communities touched our lives more so ever than before. And this was validated quite recently, when Salesforce decided to acquire the chat-based platform Slack for a whooping $27.7 billion deal – in what is being hailed as a nod to the untapped potential of community-based platforms.

The future for community-based platforms looks enticing – whether they be chat-based, forum-based, or otherwise. If you have been a part of any digital community, you would know why. In the next post, we would talk more about the reasons that are propelling the community-based social media revolution. But the bottom line remains that solo rides aren’t as effective as group-based collaborations – in short, ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas.’