A recent post at one of the forums I frequent caught my eye – it related to what people are looking for from online communities.Â Are they just looking for a thread, information on a topic or something more meaningful?Â This also begs the question of what and how can it be a meaningful user experience.Â Of course meaning is only available to those who understand the topics and concepts presented.Â Lets take a closer look at this.
On the face of it, you have the passive experience of reading this article for instance – but then on a secondary level you are interpreting, agreeing or disagreeing based on your values, judgements and mood.Â Interactivity adds another (active) element – suddenly the readers aren’t just absorbing or interpreting but instead creating a dialogue.Â This of course gives the user of the site a much more vested interest in developments and further information that appears on the site.
Of course, there are many ways and an equal number of places in which to interact on the Internet.Â This can range all the way from the very simplistic Usenet groups all the way to being part of a huge raid in the latest MMO, say World of Warcraft for instance.Â This presents an almost unlimited number of opportunities not only to interact but to find their own niche of interacting, allowing them to gain something valuable from their online experience.
One of the biggest online communities that has developed recently is of course the almost world-dominating MySpace.Â Here users create their own content, put information on about games, films they like etc and then have essentially a forum which they can interact with other users and ‘friends’.Â It developed as one of the strongest social networking sites in a long time, and is used for everything from friends to stay in touch to bands looking for more self-promotion.
Something that MySpace does very well is making it simple for someone with no technical knowledge to create a website.Â However, the real appeal comes from finding ‘friends’ online and having that level of interactivity, as well as talking to others with similar interests.Â This of course offers a sense of belonging.Â Personally it wouldn’t surprise me if MySpace is however reaching critical mass, and I’d imagine either there’s a new build soon or another social networking site will pop up.
Of course the big question then is can you really have a sense of belonging in a virtual space?Â Well I’d say that’s a yes.Â It gives a chance to talk to those with a shared interest who you’d otherwise not meet, it is absorbing, exciting even but in my experience there’s something very dry about only communicating over the medium of, for instance, text.Â Real speech in game/on site and voip is certainly changing that however.
If you create an online presence in a community, what are you really doing?Â Is this part of your identity, or do you create an alter ego to subsume yourself when you log on?Â I guess both of these are possible and valid, and create further reasons on what people look for from a community.Â The latter obviously provides room for fantasy, allowing you to be – in a controlled virtual persistent world – exactly who you want to be.Â The former could be a creative outlet, a way to meet minds and of course the route to self-expression.
Online communities will merge, divide and converge as brands move and shift in virtual space.Â What are the elements of a satisfying online community?Â Well it all depends.Â What you’re looking for of course will dictate where you go, and how long you spend there.Â Obviously some find exactly what they want in a chatroom session once a week centred around their interests, whilst others will, sadly, take things to extreme and actually pass away – totally absorbed in the virtual world of their choice.
To conclude, online spaces offer interaction, acceptance and a place to be yourself – or even someone else.Â Games with an online element do the same, taking the idea of a community to another level.Â People come and go, share and develop their own ideas along the way.Â With any sort of social interaction (e-interaction or otherwise) you’ll see some fallout along with some couples getting together.
I suppose whilst the internet is in a great stage of change at the moment, what with Web 2.0 and many other buzz-words flying about, it’s easy to forget what makes the web important.Â That is – and always has been – people.Â That’s what it is about, communication.Â I don’t think we’ve seen the ‘perfect’ online community yet, and perhaps we never will.Â However, I do know that there’s literally something for everyone out there.Â So, go join the revolution!