Sunday, August 23, 2009

Online Communities.

Referring to at least 2 of the items above, write a post to your blog that summarises what they say about online community. Conclude with your own list of at least 3 forms of evidence that YOU would look for when determining an online community.

My thoughts:
A community, whether online or not, needs to have a purpose, a reason for being, a common interest.

In many face to face (f2f) communities the participants are bought together through common interests or the purpose, and generally because they are geographically placed to do so. I live in a small rural town and while the residential and surrounding area is referred to as a community, the only thing that really ties us all together is where we live and who we pay our rates to! There are other examples of communities within my district that better reflect what I believe is a community because they have the reason for being, a common interest or a purpose. Clubs such as the Plunket parents group, the local Scout group, the ("oldies") Friendship group, Board of Trustees, Kohanga Reo komitee, Kindergarten committee, the Childcare facilities and the local sporting clubs all reflect, for me, what makes a community.

An online community should share the same attributes as a f2f community and often they do but sometimes they don't. The main difference between an online community and a f2f is obviously the geographical location. An online community can be made up of people from all over the world coming together.

So does that mean that every "gathering place of people online" ensures they are a cohesive community? I think not. I feel that to put a group of people together (even with a common purpose) does not initially assure these people their inclusion into the 'community'. I believe for people to become members of a community they must involve themselves in the comings and goings of that community and they must find or feel their way into the heirarchy of the community. There is always some sort of heirarchy in an online community, whether it be a commercial entity (website with administrators and users, e.g. the TradeMe community), a teacher/learner situation (online course) or a user defined collaboration (e.g. YouTube community).

I have always thought of YouTube as an online community simply because of the way it is used by some. YouTube is a way for some people to create and attain a public profile in much the same way celebrities do it through the media. Identities on YouTube create for themselves followers, supportive and some not so.

This was reiterated to me by Michael Wesch's video article "An anthropological introduction to YouTube" via his reference to Lonelygirl15. Lonelygirl15 had a massive following with many of her fans/supporters turning against her online personality when they realised she was a character and not the "real deal". Users felt duped in much the same way f2f situations leave people upset and dissappointed when they feel they've been let down. I remember when the Lonelygirl15 situation happened thinking "its online people, wake up its not real" but for some members it was real, it was their life for that short period. I also remember being amazed at what an impact this fictious identity had on its online community. YouTube grows each day, even each hour and the communities change, sometimes daily but one thing that remains constant is that it will always be a platform for entities that attract followers (good and bad) thus creating their own online community.

The article on Building Online Communities (O', 2002) begins with the opening line:

The Internet exists to improve communication. Communities can grow anywhere communication occurs.

Although this article was written seven years ago, it made interesting reading. Interesting because the ideas expressed 7 years ago are still true now (in my opinion) for online communties.

3 types of evidence I may look for are:

  • Does the online group have a common purpose or common goal?
  • Are the users, participants in the purpose or goal or just onlookers?
  • Is the community supportive?

As I gather steam in this course I may add more to my list or change it completely but at this stage (and this time of the night...11.32pm on a Sunday) I am confident this is what I may look for.

I welcome your comments :)




  1. I believe there are always onlookers in a community whether it is a F2F or online community. As a facilitator, how can we encourage their active involvement in the community?

  2. Perhaps there is no way to encourage their active involvement in the community if all they want to be is an onlooker. Some people are happy to just read and absorb information but not necessarily want to contribute by voicing their opinion on every (or any) subject. When the onlooker feels they are able, they will make a move to become more involved within the community. This is when the facilitator could make moves to encourage their participation by acknowledging the contribution. If the facilitator takes an active role with the 'newbie' other members of the group will follow suit (generally, unless the community is 'clicky' or the onlooker is confrontational, I suppose. There are lots of variables to consider).

  3. Hello Heather, thank you very much for the mini-event today. I enjoyed the opportunity to try out DimDim again.

    It was very interesting to hear Mark's experiences because they are mirroring my own. I have been encouraging non-profit organizations to look at Google Docs, so it was affirming to hear that Mark was having good success in similar circumstances.

    A few comments from me. You introduced Mark and wrapped up the session and made opportunities for people to ask questions. I think you could have advertised your session more effectively so people were reminded what was happening, and given more notice to attend. The backup plan was vague and the audio at the conference was intermittent which detracted from the actual event. It would have been lovely to have seen photos of yourself and Mark so the audience could identify with you. I also think it would have been nice to ask Debra and myself to introduce ourselves to Mark so that he had an idea of who we were, and where we came from.

    Looking back on the event, what do you feel went well and what would you do differently next time?

  4. Thanks for taking the time to comment Sarah. I am about to post my recollection of my mini
    conference online and will address a couple of your comments in my post. From your comments I get the feeling you did not enjoy my event (as much as you enjoyed all the others) and that is a shame. Mark did a really good job for a novice presenter(from my perspective)and I appreciate his time and effort. Mark was informed what the mini conference was for, who may attend and where the people were from. Granted I didnt have a picture of Mark and to be honest I didn't think of asking him if he wanted to be 'on show'. Perhaps, if it had been the 'norm' at the other events I would have organised it but I didnt.
    Anyway, to save hurt feelings ((mostly mine!) because I know it's easy to misunderstand comments in this type of forum ) I'll leave it at that and write my reflections (and the changes I'd make if I did this again) in my blog as planned.

    Kind Regards

  5. Heather: please forgive me if you got the impression I didn't enjoy your session. That is not the case at all. I found it to be really interesting because Mark was addressing all the issues that I am interested in - working with non-profits in a virtual community. So thank you very much for the opportunity to learn from him.

    The comments I have written here are to guide you and get you thinking about how you would do things in a future event. My feedback is not meant as a criticism, but rather to give you things to contemplate in the future. I am back at work - please feel free to phone me if you'd like a chat about this: 0800smartmove

    As for using personal photos to give the audience a sense of who you are, this is good practice in these sorts of events - Mark would have been no more 'on show' than if he was giving a F2F presentation.

    Look forward to hearing your reflections. Sarah