Just somewhere to put down my thoughts on Interactive Media Strategies (IMS) and occasionally some other stuff that pops into my mind...

Friday, 22 January 2010

Online Community

Does community exist online? To answer this, it’s probably sensible to define what we mean by community. In the offline world, most communities are defined by location, but online, proximity is not an essential for communication. A definition of community relating to a group of people living in a particular place therefore doesn’t cover online community. Unless of course, people living in a particular place offline, choose to communicate online. Other definitions of community suggest a common religion, occupation or lifestyle may bring people together. This has more relevance online where specialist interest social networks, forums and chat rooms appear. But what about the diversity of community? Some communities comprise a wide variety of interests, cultures, ages etc, but still they interact with each other. In niche online environments, is diversity present? I think these aspects of community highlight the key differences of online community. As location is no longer an issue, people with different interests are no longer brought together. Common interest is what generates online community, so the diversity you see offline is lost. Instead online community has the diversity that comes from spanning the globe. A 14 year old in California can be in an online community with a 35 year old in Delhi. That sounds pretty diverse to me.

There are also other differences with online community. In the offline world, being part of a community is more of a commitment. Online though, you can join and leave as you please, and you can even just watch and never participate. Jakob Nielsen suggests that most people have no desire to build communities online. For real diversity, the views of these lurkers need to be captured. Sites that host online communities therefore need to encourage the building of relationships and identities. The functionality and ease of use of a site is therefore important for greater participation and avatars, nicknames, reputation scores and post counts all create identities for members and encourage interaction through the notion of play.

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