There's an interesting phenomena occurring in the software development industry and, possibly more so, in the eLearning world: user communities rule!
The whole concept of "community", be it virtual or actual, has its very roots in our need to belong, communicate and feel connected to something. It is mostly an ingrained emotional need. While there are many other benefits to belonging in a community, I'd venture that the emotional feed benefit is by far the biggest one.
But there is one problem with any community and one that most vendors struggle with: how do you balance the emotional need with the actual business need?
The emotional needs cares about the people in the community, the buzz they all so gladly accept and the feeling of sharing with others (though frankly, most people in communities lurk more than contribute). Communities, due to their emotional needs, can be fickle, demanding and even angry at times. Such is the nature of any community.
The real purpose of a community in Business is to share product knowledge, keep people up to speed on latest developments, listen to their needs and, hopefully, act upon those needs. The community members can make what they want personally out of their interrelationships with other members both of the company hosting the community or of the community members.
This is a tricky balancing act and many vendors forget what the community purpose is and wind up losing their focus on producing a great product. Then the community backfires on the vendor and the community members go elsewhere to seek comfort and the emotional need again.
Vendor communities are also an arm of the Marketing and Sales departments more often than not. And in both Marketing and Sales their goal is to make you feel happy, trusting and comfortable with their product offerings and solutions. Technically run communities cater to programmers, develoeprs, engineers and the like. They are quite different in nature and scope.
In the eLearning world, we have a rare combination of technical/emotional needs. Trainers are more empathetic thereby more emotional as they deal with people all the time. Instructional designers share many of the same attributes as trainers. eLearning developers. now often instructional designers, combine techies with more emotional types. Kind of like mildly autistic meets gushy (a dangerous combo at best!)
What I find about many communities is that they are much more forgiving the larger their emotional feed is. For example:
I prefer a great product to a great community. I am more techie and less emotional when it comes to business ad development needs. I enjoy a great community but prefer a great product because of the amount of time and money we save in development. And that creates a better customer experience. It's rare to find both a great community and a great product, but it is a noble goal indeed...
If you're in a community, don't suspend reality and become a "true believer". Enjoy the community but always stay focused on your needs as a developer or creator of content. The community buss is one thing, but the reality is often another. As with all things, go in eyes wide open, brain turned on and with a purpose in mind. And if you're in a community, de-cloak every so often and get involved, share what you know or make valid criticisms so that we all get a better end product.