What is this community for, anyway?

The altMBA project that was due last night was talking about the problem of defining what a business or product is for.  It seems like it's an easy question to answer, but it can get complicated.  A shoe horn is a beautifully designed object if you think about - they can actually be beautiful objects, curved and symmetrical, they do exactly one thing and they do it so well that the design probably hasn't changed in, probably, centuries? 

One of the classic analogies to explain how businesses often don't understand what they are really for is railroads.  In 1920 the major railroads and rail lines in the U.S. thought they were in the railroad business, but they weren't.  They were in the transportation business, and when newer models of transportation came up, they were displaced.  We can see it now with oil and coal companies that didn't realize they are in the energy business.  Either they figure out alternative energies soon, or they are doomed. 

I went down the rabbit hole of what my communities are for.  I think that one of the things that made Java.net so great for the years that we were at our best was that we knew exactly what it was for.  I can think of a lot of examples where communities fail because they try to serve too many different kinds of users, and lose sight of what they are for at their core.  Tight focus is a good thing.  A smaller community can be a stronger community because it has a greater sense of purpose.  If members come to the same community expecting it to be different things they will be disappointed.  Those members can't really work together because they're not trying to accomplish the same thing.