What is an Online Community? FOC08 Weeks 2 and 3

Posted on August 26, 2008
Filed Under Dogs, Facilitating Online Communities (FOC08), Social Networking | Leave a Comment

subset of the virtual "community" of boxer lovers - Vancouver Boxer Meetup meeting face-to-face at Vanier Park in Kitsilano

Vancouver Boxer Meetup: subset of the virtual "community" of boxer lovers meeting face-to-face at Vanier Park in Kitsilano last September

I’ve heard it said among some of my friends that an “online” community isn’t really a community at all. This is usually said by friends who are resistant to using their computers for anything other than either for work or for personal research.

Our blog posts for the FOC08 course are to be reflective and personal rather than academic (which is my first instinct!) – a not completely comfortable undertaking on my part. As I think back over my years online and my involvement with various technologies – email, listserves, forums, and now social networking applications – and think about the friends and acquaintances I’ve made along the way, I realize, for me, that community does exist online. The “groups” aren’t much different from my “real” life groups, except that I don’t always know what my online friends and acquaintances look or sound like. We congregate as a group for many of the same reasons we do in “real” life: common interests, shared places of employment, geographic proximity, mutual support, information seeking, etc.

On the personal side, I’ve been involved with the Boxer Mailing List for the last 6  or 7 years. Over time, I’ve made friends with a number of people from this community and have been lucky enough to meet several in “real” life. Our community has been badly shaken by the suicide of one of our members and the early and unexpected deaths of several others. It has rallied to help a rescue worker pay expensive hospital bills after she was badly mauled by one of her rescue dogs (not a boxer, incidentally) – she didn’t have health insurance because she couldn’t afford it. We’ve rejoiced with members who have gotten married, given birth, graduated from school. We’ve cried together when we’ve lost a beloved companion. In short, we’ve interacted in much the same way as we would if we were living in the same neighbourhood, worked for the same company, volunteered in the same organizations, studied in the same schools.

On the professional side, I’m been a member of a number of associations and listserves to do with librarianship and the information world. In our online forums and listserves, we share both our professional and personal lives. Again, there is camaraderie and a willingness to help and be helped by others, just as there would be in the “real” world.

Some of these communities are more “friendly” than others; some are more active, while others have more lurkers than participators. Just as in “real” life, we participate online in diverse communities, interacting and sharing with others as we go about our daily business.

My sense of community is one in which we interact with and touch other people in an emotional or intellectual way – this regardless of the physical environment, geographically close or distant, online or face-to-face. I don’t see my online connections as being all that different from far-away folks with whom I keep in touch by mail or phone. Keeping in touch online provides a different and additional means of connecting and building community. Being online expands my community in a seemingly boundless way, offering me a way to “be” with people I might otherwise never meet. I’ll be reading other FOC08 participants’ blog posting about online community over the next few months, seeing where we agree and differ – again, another commonality between online communities and “real life” ones.

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