Masters of Scale: The evolving meaning of community

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

What it means to have a community has changed dramatically over the last two decades. In the latest episode of the Masters of Scale podcast, host Reid Hoffman discusses where things stood in 1997, when he was founding an early social media company:

"The idea with SocialNet was that the online community was important, but what most mattered was local community, was the people that you actually spent time with around you, that you could touch, the tactile experience of the people you're going through life together."

Why it matters: Where community was once tied to your geographic location and the people around you, the internet and the rise of social networks broadened that definition to include any group with a shared interest, writes media trends reporter Sara Fischer.

The value of these communities is clear in cases where geographically dispersed people share a problem or cause, like those dealing with rare forms of cancer, immigrants acclimating to a new country, and mothers in need of breast milk to keep their kids healthy.

  • Yes, but: Virtual communities based on shared interests can have dark sides, too, particularly when it comes to politics. Social media users often self-select into groups with similar points of view, creating so-called filter bubbles that can increase polarization and discourage civil discourse.

To Hoffman's point, the web has also created more opportunities for people to connect with those people physically close to them through geo-targeted event postings, recommendations and groups catering to those with a shared interest within the same town or city.

Be smart: Despite all the opportunities to connect with others digitally, people across age groups ultimately crave in-person interactions, according to a recent SurveyMonkey poll for "Axios on HBO".

Data: SurveyMonkey poll conducted Nov. 9 to 13 among 1,820 U.S. adults. Total margin of error is ±3 percentage points. Modeled error estimates: Ages 18–34 ±6, Ages 35–46 ±4, Ages 65+ ±7. Survey methodology. Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Go deeper: Listen to the full episode of the Masters of Scale podcast.