Online Communities


MBB launched the Theme of the Week, or the MTW. This week, we'll be talking about online communities, so here's my post. :P

Online communities. That's an interesting word. First I'd like to define the web as we know it today. Simply put, it's a network of computers, connected together that is. Now what is a community? People connected in some way to other people. See the similarity? By the very basic definition of web, we know that it will, at some point, involve the inter-connection of people, via the inter-connection of machines. The web has brought far-flung people together, people who can now chat, talk, view and interact with each other as if they were mere metres away. This is the marvel of the web, and of online communities.

I think the oldest online communities I know of would be newsgroups, particularly those of Usenet. Imho, these have always been around. Should be a by-product of the big-bang or something. Com'on! Who hasn't heard of Usenet at least once? If no, it's really time you get to Wikipedia and Google Groups! NOW! Newsgroups are interesting places where people used to share "news" and bits of discussion. In some ways, they are the ancestors of our "forums" of today. These were regrouping people who shared the same ideas and passions, and formed the first communities.

Gradually, people wanted a more "real-time" way of interacting. With this came IRC, Internet Relay Chat. This is again, another very popular community on the web. Although it's not really a community by definitions, many IRC rooms have their own subculture, their own jargon and their own lifestyle if you want. They are like small worlds of their own. To me, these look like communities too. IRC is still very much alive today, and widely used. There are rooms for almost everything: books, food, games, general, and as was to be expected, p()rn.

Over the years, Usenet evolved into forums. MBB has its own forums, so do many many other sites. They allow users to post messages, and read other's message on a particular topic. Forums usually have many topics in many boards. In fact, forums can be said to be a very common way of community-building today. You want an example? Assume you have a passion for stamps. Build a site for stamps, create a forum, and in no time, you'll have other people sharing the passion joining your forum. That or you might be over-run by p0rn-posting spambots.

Nowadays, we are seeing the Web 2.0 revolution, that is the migration of "commercial" web into "social" web. And whenever you see social, you should also be seeing "community". Web 2.0 brought its whole lot of new communities with it. With the first waves came Del.icio.us, the well-known social-bookmarking site, and Flickr, the social-photo sharing site. As I said, wherever you see social, there are communities. Del.icio.us is a community for people to share links, Flickr is for sharing pictures. DeviantArt (artists' community) rode into 2.0 too, and hasn't stop growing till then. Our small cute art Deviant is now a frickin big huge mammoth Mega Deviant with millions of users. Other well-known communities would be Digg where people share news, same for Fark and many others. The list would be long and un-ending. All these sites are online communities. And this goes without mentioning blogs, which again are small communities upon themselves, evolving through posts and commentors!

Other kinds of communities now are the file-sharers community, namely via Napster, Imesh, ex-Kazaa, ex-WinMX and others. These have a life and moral of their own, and are not afraid to defy the big boys to continue their community. These are Peer-to-Peer networks, and are like Hydras. Cut one head, 2 pops out. Here it'd be bring down one network, 734^87389 others come up!! I won't elaborate here since it's a subject upon itself.

Now another kind of community is coming to the scene. Virtual lives. Ok, we are not yet into Minority Report-like life where humans have nearly merged with machines, nor into Ghost in the Shell, where "humans" are technically machines and can connect to networks with their (cyber) brains, but we are not far from that. By virtual lives, I mean that people have alter-egos on the internet that differ from their real lives personality. Taking myself as example, I am not called Inf in real life... Ok, my friends DO call me Inf in real-life too and I have nearly the same personality online and offline, a geek!

Facebook, Hi5 (Mauritians' favourites?) Orkut, MySpace, Bebo.. bla bla bla. Name it. There are tons and tons of such communities where people meet people. Like a dating site, but less dating, more friendship. Or so they say. In real life, I can be a classy company CEO, but my Facebook profile might not reflect it. Instead, it may reflect my online alter-ego who could be a famous rockstar, a vision of myself that people in my company might not know. A more vivid example is Second Life, which is a 3D virtual world where people live alternate lives. They build houses, buy things (with real cash, not virtual!) and interact with others. Again, it's just an avatar, and may not totally reflect their real self, or it might as well reflect it. All depends on how the person wants the community to see him or her. I want to point out that since Second Life exists, and as per Rule 34 of Internet, a p()rn version also exists, for the curious! :D

As you can see, just as the web evolved, so did the communities. They grew bigger, have more features, have more users, and are more functional. And the best thing is, they keep evolving to match the new eras. This is what's fun about the Internet in general: it evolves.

I personally think that as time passes, people will become more and more interconnected. It's the nature of the human race to be inter-connected, since humans are often defined as "social animals" that cannot live solitary lives for long. And I think that the Internet too will evolve to match the desires of its creators: to be more connected. We are already seeing this trend today. Internet shifted from computer-only to mobiles, and other devices, and more recently, to Portable Media Players and other devices like freezers. It's not unexpected that in the near future, we would merge with machines and maybe as in Ghost in the Shell, access the global network just through our brains via implants. We will be able to participate in our communities, just as if we'd do in real-life, through immersion. I think this would really mean "be part of the community" then! :P

5 comments:

  1. bbZuSh said...

    I have to say! That is really well written! Would have commented on each parts if I had time, but really busy! But I loved it! (I didn't get bored :P )  

  2. morinn said...

    long post indeed but very well documented.  

  3. MBB said...

    Well, you have said it all! The concept of Second Life is interesting but terrifying as well but it is certainly a revolution. You have written on almost all aspects of online communities! Great post.  

  4. Infinity said...

    Waw.. You people need to be commended. Having gone through that post without dozing off.. :)  

  5. Neelesh said...

    had a boost in knowledge.  


 

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