The comments on Micah's post about the Boulder tech scene got me thinking about the difference between a community and a clique. On one level, a clique is any community you're not in. All social groups offer advantages to their members and have barriers to entry, which can make them infuriating to outsiders.
Communities work because they distribute the cost of evaluating strangers across all the members, and magnify the cost of offending any member by spreading information about transgressions. In other words, social networks generate reputations. Reputations aren't perfect, but they're harder to fake than any other signal we've got about trustworthiness.
So, we need groups, but we all know from high school how they can be used for evil. What distinguishes a good community from a clique?
– Meritocratic. Inclusion and status should be determined by something more or less objective.
– Open. There should be established, well-known ways to become part of the group.
– Positive. The community should be defined by who they include, not who's excluded.
In my experience, Boulder's tech scene is all of these. Sure, there's well-connected people, and others who are less in the loop, but the central people tend to be there because they're heavily involved in events, or have a long track record in startups. There's a lot of events and programs like TechStars, boulder.me, new tech meetups, hackspace and Ignite Boulder that are good entrypoints to the community.