The community spectrum: caring to combative (Insight From Alex Bayley)

Through recent discussions on the state of Python packaging ecosystem, I learned about the concept of a Community Spectrum. Having recently had discussions about the various states of the online Maker Community, this was quite interesting.

by Dave on Jan. 21, 2023, 2:53 p.m.

It looks like originally what I've called the Community Spectrum, was called the Competitive Spectrum on the Yahoo Developer Site (I know, right!?) This makes sense as it goes from one extreme "Caring" to the other "Combative" so there's varying levels of competition along the way. I learned about Alex Bayley's original post from Sumana Harihareswara re-posting the original post from the Internet Archive. Alex's original post was discussing the various ways Open Source software project communities operate, as defined below from the original post:

The Competitive Spectrum describes communities as being:

  • Caring: members are motivated by helping each other.
  • Collaborative: members share goals and help each other to achieve them.
  • Cordial: members have their own goals which do not conflict with each other.
  • Competitive: members share the same goals, and compete against each other to achieve them.
  • Combative: members must achieve their goals by preventing others from being doing so.

Back when I discovered Open Source software, and the communities and projects behind it, i also found the idea of a "Learning Community" where folks come together to share knowledge. All my future experiences are based on this idea of sharing, and learning together.

Based on my community experience over the years, there's subsets of each of these in any wider community. I've certainly made real-life friends who exist, as least for our friend groups at the caring end of the spectrum. Folks I have worked with, either solving problems on an open source project, or paid work as a developer generally exist at the collaborative level, luckily. And people I've generally know about, but interacted with less directly, were cordial, as far as I knew. There's always some competitive relationships, I find these exist between a few people with a more competitive personality. I tend to avoid those parts of the spectrum personally, so I don't have a strong sense of how that works. If a community, or project is combative, it seems unlikely to continue to exist in the same way for the long term.

Translating this sort of experience into the online maker community, where I spend most of the online social energy, again I stay out of the competitive and certainly avoid the combative folks as much as possible.

What's interesting is the wide overlap in some ways, and fragmentation in other ways, of the online maker community. We can break things up by which social platform someone uses the most, or by level of involvement, there's probably another way I haven't thought of yet.

Personally, I found the easiest way to participate, and contribute on Instagram (back in the olden days where it was only photos, no complaining!). I was able to discover new people, and get inspiration from their work, and share what I was learning and working on myself. There's definitely a community of folks who produce YouTube content, and those that watch and comment as well. Of course, it all goes back to DIY blogs, if we go far enough. Another big place folks share work is Instrucables, but I haven't jumped into that in a way I can comment on. There's TikTok and every other maker has a podcast at this point.

Another way to look at it, is what folks make and how they relate to the crafts they pursue. Some folks just want to learn everything, some folks want to focus on a specific type of work, and probably most people are someone in the middle of that particular spectrum. Or we can look at it from a sharing view, some folks share finished work, in progress, or share their entire learning journey.

Luckily I have been able to keep myself in the part of the spectrum from Caring to Cordial, and I have been able to discover new people and their work, get to know them and understand their work, and continue to make new friends. The best way to do this is to find local makers, or visit a maker event, of any type or size, from a local meetup at a coffee shop, local makerspace, regional woodworking show or whatever, or one of the big events. I am grateful to have had the opportunity and geographic proximity to events and people truly can call friends now.

I understand that there are folks who will be competitive or combative no matter how welcoming and generous other folks in a community may be. I've just been fortunate to be able to avoid or move on from any places where it was not working for me. I hope other folks are able to identify the people and places that don't help, and are able to find the ones that do, and do my best to help people find them.

However you participate in a community, striving to learn more, and understand other folks is the best way to have a good experience, and create a welcoming and successful community.