A decade after Facebook's birth at Harvard University in 2004, the concept of community has been utterly upended. The third place that sociology professor Ray Oldenburg wrote about in his 1989 book, The Great Good Place gathering spaces between work and home that he argued are the heart of social vitality and the grassroots of democracy have evolved beyond tangible environments. The landscape now teems with online third places where people connect while sitting wherever they choose, drinking whatever they like and wearing pajamas if they want to.
Just as food and beverages are a foundation of physical community, so they are online as well an interesting phenomenon for a medium where people do not see, smell or touch actual food. They use their imaginations instead, learning about a friend's crepe technique or a blogger's chai experience in Mumbai without leaving home although the result is often an exploratory trip to the grocery store.
The impact of the digital community on trends and food culture is enormous and growing. Research shows people consume social media content far more than they create it, which means many are mainly exploring. As a result, one person's online suggestion to try a Korean hamburger or a peppermint mocha latte or more powerful, one person posting an appetizing-looking photo of the same can reach thousands of people in a day. If social media had existed two decades ago when Annie's Homegrown launched, who knows how quickly word of its macaroni and cheese might have spread? Consumers who enjoyed the samples handed out by Annie's "army" of mostly moms at ski lodges, outdoor concerts and parking lots could have texted and tweeted it right into friends kitchen cupboards.