What Defines An On-Line Community?

"The Social Gathering" a North Side ...
Image by Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest via Flickr

Because I’m forever interested in the notion of “community”, I sought a definition and found a bunch of them:

  • a group of people living in a particular local area; “the team is drawn from all parts of the community”
  • common ownership; “they shared a community of possessions
  • a group of nations having common interests; “they hoped to join the NATO community”
  • agreement as to goals; “the preachers and the bootleggers found they had a community of interests”
  • residential district: a district where people live; occupied primarily by private residences
  • (ecology) a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other

I think the final definition here is the only one that applies to those who create and try to sustain community on the web.

And the challenge of simply interacting with people you do not know, have never met, may never meet and who may be creating utterly false identities is…who are you dealing with?

For me, a community worth being part of involves a significant level of trust: that is your real name, and photo, and these are your credentials or experiences. This may mark me as naive, or old-fashioned, someone unable to appreciate the wit and irony that so delight and amuse many others in this medium.

But I’m fine with that.

I’m a female Popeye — I yam what I yam.

I want to talk to, and listen to, and interact with, and trust (else why would I really listen to you or heed you?) real people.

How about you?

11 thoughts on “What Defines An On-Line Community?

  1. Lisa

    In some ways I agree with you, and since I have been reflecting on the concept of community as well lately, I thought I’d reply. I relish contact with real people. But, that said, I find myself truly enjoying to on-line communities. The first is here, at WordPress. I don’t know if the people are real, their names are true, their pictures are honest. Yet here, I’ve found people who love writing and communicating. Maybe for some those communications are lies, but for me those communications are in some ways more honest. The second is an on-line course that I am teaching for the first time. Yes, part of me feels strange not knowing who my students are in flesh and blood, but I am getting to know them. I don’t know, is community simply something that you commit to participating in?

  2. The internet leaves a lot of room for deception, misrepresentation, and physical or emotional damage to those who have been strung along. And yet, real life in a physical community is full of frauds, impostors and cruel individuals. We had a guy who was in charge of Fourth of July activities for veterans who had all the medals and insignia of a Viet Nam veteran – but he was lying. I’ve been asked many times to join service clubs (they leave me alone now) where some people are living dual lives, cheating on spouses, ignoring their children. So far I have not been burned by my cyber friends on Facebook or the blogs. Last night I viewed the new Forbes layout and felt a similar vibe as I did when I closely followed True/Slant. Community is spiritual, not just a place and sharing our lives in small slices online has not been bad for me. Tom

  3. My picture is a goat and my name is one I chose myself, so it’s likely evident where I am on this issue!

    My online “persona” (on WordPress) allows me the freedom to be the me I see and the me I would be if I didn’t feel so limited by propriety.

  4. Great post, and really interesting comment string.

    I’ve had a long-standing interest in the notion of community, primarily the physical kind, as in real people interacting. I’ve only had an on-line life for the last eighteen months, and have gone from zero to website/blog/second blog (literary), and now I’ve finally relented and have a Facebook profile. Lots of it, quite frankly, leaves me cold.

    Is there a community on-line? Certainly. Is it better or worse than the ‘real’ community? Probably it’s both.

    Whilst the internet does a range of things incredibly well – broadcasting information, for example – what’s missing is the nuance that goes with real-life communication: we can’t see what someone’s doing, and so much of our communication is visual. Sure people can lie and deceive in the ‘real world’, but we’re pretty good at picking up that they might not be telling us the entire truth.

    Having said that, the Australian literary e-journal I co-edit, Verity La, has certainly developed around it a community of people interested in words and ideas – these things are our commonality, and it would be impossible to have it without the internet.

    Perhaps it comes down to that word ‘ecology’: things exist in different spaces for different reasons for different needs.

    1. Thanks. Great to hear from you..love your blog!

      I often find myself terribly hungry for community, in real life, of shared interests and values. It doesn’t happen for me geographically, as i live in the NYC suburbs, where it’s a race to the top financially, which leaves me both out and uninterested. I seek it at my church, but often find people showing up because it’s what’s expected, not necessarily because they want to live a spiritually thoughtful life.

      Last week I spent some time, which I will blog about, in Brooklyn in a writing group and enjoyed that.

      I think the “community” on-line is tricky. I see two behaviors in play most often: people making nice (and not saying much of anything because they don’t [kindly enough] wish to offend the blogger or get deleted or people being utter bullies and savages when they are able to hide behind false names and avatars. Call me foolishly old-fashioned, but I want a classic 19th-century salon, where smart people who share a passion or two get together to share it and talk about it intelligently.

  5. Lisa

    [I was trying to put this comment on your crocodile post, but for some reason that one is not working. I hope you don’t mind me placing it here.]

    Wow! I am noticing a trend to posts lately. Many wonderful women (myself included) seem to be struggling with that crocodile and heading down truly dangerous paths. Kudos to you for recognizing that it is time to drop the crocodile. I know that you can’t completely let go of some of the stress in life, especially ones related to family, but I think it is so powerful to say, “Hey, I need a break. I need to sleep for 15 hours. I need a pedicure.” And not just say it, do it. I have problems getting past the fantasy of treating myself well into the action of treating myself well. I am taking small steps by: writing more (I find this blogging community to be a source of energy), tap dancing, taking piano, reading, talking to good friends, and sleeping when I can. I would love to add a massage to that list.

    I am so sorry that you were threatened by a blogger. That is truly disturbing, when I like to think this is a community where you have the freedom to speak, to write, to dream.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Now go take a break, listen to some music, and relax.


    1. Thanks for sharing your tips! I’m intrigued to hear that women are (finally?) saying Enough!!! I think many women are socialized to be-all-do-all and it’s exhausting and health-threatening to not draw tight boundaries around our limited energies. We are not robots! (About which I plan to blog as well.)

      I got a 90-minute massage a few weeks ago and it was very helpful. I am lucky right now that I can afford more of these treats, but I did ask for — and get — a reduced cost plan at my local Y when my income dropped in the recession. Stress reduction is HUGELY important to staying sane and healthy.

      The woman I met yesterday asked me to help with her community-focused project and was stunned when I said, very firmly, NOT a chance for six months. I am too busy right now. I said it kindly, but firmly and she admitted she is not used to setting such tight boundaries for herself. I think we all need to care more for ourselves and then, replenished, care for others after we are recharged. Otherwise, we’re bitchy and burned out!

  6. Hmm. I think I have something like that salon. The trick is to have a tiny blog read by only ten people who are not blood relatives. As much as I would love to attract thousands of fawning minions, I also love sharing my writing with a handful of brilliant women.

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