Social media is all the buzz, but it may be useful to look at the variations in the types of online teams and communities because this may influence the design and development of these efforts.
In virtual teams and communities Pat Sobrero presents a typology that distinguishes between work teams, communities of interest and communities of practice. She then notes the differences of each type in terms of focus, membership, trust, motivation and so forth.
The differences between communities of interest and practice is particularly useful in regards to thinking about whether people are focused on the content or problem or on the social process or community. In short, a community of interest may be more interested in getting more information about a topic than participating in a social learning or networking process. These differences in the focus, motivation and trust in these types of communities suggest that educators who are interested in developing a community of interest should create ways for people to stay up to date about the topic, new information on the topic, create methods of obtaining deeper, richer and more complex information the the topic.
In developing a community of practice, the focus should be more on the "social" aspects of learning and developing relationships between participants. Learning tools would involve group engagement and group problem solving. Many of the roles described by Aaron Ebata in Essential Roles for Communities of Practice would need to be considered in order to develop an effective community.
Sobrero doesn't comment on whether "communities of interest" can grow into "communities of practice" and/or whether there is a developmental relationship between these two types of communities.