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May 24, 2010

Online Communities - Pulled in Multiple Directions

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about blogging communities and how some bloggers band together to form their own little social circle, as well as the best way to attract new people to it.

But it didn't start out that way. I went off on kind of a tangent. While I did like what I ended up writing, that was not the initial inspiration for my post. I'll post the beginning of it again:

"As human beings, we strive to organize ourselves into communities, whether they're actual ones (a town or city, for example) or social ones. The Internet has done much to foster the social communities we form, but even before that, we would have our own little groups of friends and fellow travelers, be it in high school, college, at work, or at play. We strive to be with people of similar minds, or those who complement our own personalities even if they aren't similar.

Some of these communities we form out of necessity because we are all forced together, such as in school. We form these communities because that's how we deal with shared situations. A group of people trying to handle the same situation all as individuals never really accomplishes much.

Other communities we seek out on our own, to give us another place to belong or because we have a certain inclination and we want to share it with others who feel the same way. You join a club, or a gaming group, or whatever. And sometimes you blog."

The reason the idea of community came to mind wasn't necessarily blogging, however. It was actually the wide array of online communities that we often become a part of that are apart from blogging.

How many forums do you go to and regularly read? Do you go to a Lost fan forum and discuss last night's finale with fellow fans? How about your favourite football/hockey team? Do you go to a fan site and hash out your arguments on whether Roberto Luongo is overrated or Patrick Kane has an awesome chest? How about a hobby? Do you go to a scrapbooking forum and discuss the latest techniques with other people who do the same thing? Or do you subscribe to email lists?

Before web forums, there was Usenet (various newsgroups that discussed anything and everything, depending on the name of the group). Before that, there were bulletin boards.

Ever since humans starting getting online and interacting with their fellow man (and woman) around the world, they have taken their sense of community that they carry in the real world and translated it to the Electronic Age. Humans seem to have a need to connect with like-minded people, and in this way communities are born. In real life, you can't usually choose your neighbours (though you can decide whether you are going to interact with them), but online, you can to an extent.

Sure, you can't choose who joins a group after you, but you can choose to leave the group and find another one. It's a lot easier (not to mention cheaper!) to find a new online community than it is a real one.

If you have joined various online forums, do you find yourself feeling a bit fragmented if you join too many? Are you like me, reading a bunch of different ones but not really feeling a part of any of them? I post to a few, but with nowhere near the regularity that others do. I sometimes feel more like an observer than a community member. I see the "regulars" post there and realize that I will never be like that. Whether it's the lack of time or the lack of desire, or maybe it's my inherent shyness that is still with me 30 years after it first manifested itself.

I don't know what it is. It's been a while since I've felt a part of one of those. Part of me would like to get that feeling again, but every time I start to get a little close to it, I draw away for some reason. I tell myself I just don't have the time, but is that really it?

I'd be interested in your thoughts. Have you joined any forums online? What types of forums? And do you participate or just read? What do you think?

Here's a poll for you, but I'd love to see a comment as well. Blogging communities aren't the only communities out there, you know.

Please note: In this post, I'm not talking about social media, like Facebook or Twitter. I'm talking about discussion forums.


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