Online communities, like traditional communities, are ultimately about one thing—communication. An online community is basically an online space where people come to meet others, exchange ideas, debate, discuss and grow. Like your neighborhood or work community, online communities are limited to what you and the other members make of them.
While online discussions should not be a complete substitute for face-to-face
interaction, they certainly have potential to supplement our business and social
lives by providing new ways of looking at things or different outlets for creativity.
Life can be complicated. Daily obligations like paying multiple monthly bills
and organizing our finances often fill the time we could spend exploring the
virtual world around us.
CHAT ROOMS, NEWS GROUPS, BLOGS
Online communities are supported by a broad range of technologies, each offering
advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a list of some of the most common
forms of communities with a brief explanation of their main pros and cons according
Experiment with different groups and see which works best for you.
Great for having a real-time discussion that involves several people
Easily allows a guest speaker to answer questions from the group
Can be difficult to keep up with the flurry of messages
No need to actively check the community’s Web site, because messages just
come to your inbox
Messages can be composed and read offline
Messages often are received out of sequential order
Spammers can send messages to the list and gather e-mail addresses
Can produce a large number of e-mails in your inbox if the group is talkative
News Groups (Pros and cons are similar to e-mail lists except):
Just the titles of messages can be downloaded without having to download the
Sites must be visited to check the messages as opposed to having them automatically
sent to you
Web Logs (or Blogs)
Can act as an effective Internet filtering tool with many of the most interesting
stories and applicable topics being culled from all over the Web
Allows for easy discussion of topics and a broad range of opinions
Topics are usually limited to those chosen by the individual writing the blog
Limited viewpoints in the actual blog, with public interaction usually restricted
to commenting on the posts
Great for technical information if people need to find answers to a particular
Topics are neatly organized and easily accessed
More conducive to displaying conversations the way people normally talk
Less conducive to creating a social community
It is often necessary to load a new HTML page to see the next message
Sometimes it’s difficult to resolve debates due to the erratic nature in
which people access the board
The topics discussed in an online community are as diverse as today’s global
community. No matter your subject of interest, from acrobatics to Zip drives,
somewhere on the Internet a group of people is probably discussing it hotly.
Just go to nearly any search engine and run a search for your topic of choice
and the type of community you’re interested in to see what you can find.
Of course, the best thing about virtual communities is that if the right one
can’t be found, anyone can build their own.
A search engine such as Yahoo! is a good place to start an online search, but
if you’re looking for something in the real world, whether in your local
community or on the other side of the United States, a better place to begin
looking maybe online yellow pages such as SMARTpages. You can search by business
category for a list of companies or look for specific business names. It’s
fast, free and easy!
BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME
If you want to create your own Web community, you have to know the answers to
a few questions first. Will there be a central topic of your community and what
will it be? What type of community members do you want or expect? What technological
format would you like your community to be based on? Once you have these basic
questions out of the way, it’s time to actually create your community.
A great starting point for do-it-yourselfers is fullcirc.com, which offers step-by-step
instructions and suggestions for beginners. There are many helpful Web sites,
like thinkofit.com, that offer everything from software to start a community
on your own Web site to host sites that let you run a community on their Web
sites without having to download any software.
Online Community Report offers a wealth of helpful tips and tricks for beginners
and seasoned veterans alike. And if you’re interested in building a community
that is strictly business-related, check out BloggingWorks. It offers workshops
that provide personalized training to help you have a professional, well-designed
virtual community that fosters the exchange of ideas and benefits your customers
and co-workers alike.
JUST BE SAFE
The first step you should take toward ensuring your online security is investing
in a firewall and an anti-virus software tool. A firewall is hardware or software
that acts as a protective barrier between your PC and the Internet. It filters
traffic so unauthorized data transfer that could damage your computer doesn’t
Anti-virus software tools are countermeasure programs that identify and quarantine
computer viruses. The problem with computer viruses is that they replicate, sometimes
causing damage to an otherwise healthy system and potentially spreading from
host to host. This spreading can occur through e-mail, other programs or different
types of media.
One thing to keep in mind is that computer viruses almost always need to be activated,
usually by a click or open command. So, always think before you click.
Aside from the technological tools that exist to ensure your computer’s
security, one of the best ways to ensure online security is related to your online
behavior. By following simple guidelines from sites like WHO@ (Working to Halt
Online Abuse) and ChatDanger.com, you can help to easily avoid negative confrontations
that might lead to online abuse.
Be careful of what information you give out. Never leak credit card numbers,
home addresses, phone numbers or full names. And even when you’re registering
for something online like e-mail or instant messaging (IM) accounts, only give
out information that is absolutely necessary.
Choose your user name wisely. Don’t use your real name, and try to pick
gender-neutral names. Unfortunately, the majority of online harassers focus on
females, so by picking certain fun names you simply may be making yourself a
Lurk before you leap. Before you post any messages or send any e-mails, take
some time simply reading the correspondence among the current community members.
Make sure that it’s your kind of group before getting personally involved
Don't type it if you wouldn’t say it. When you participate online, try
your best to be considerate and polite. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t
walk up to a complete stranger in person and say something, then don’t
write it online.
Don't give them the satisfaction. The majority of online harassers do what they
do to get a reaction. Obviously, if you find yourself in a legitimate debate,
defend away. But as soon as your opponents begin using foul language or become
vulgar, let it go. When they realize they can’t bother you, they’ll
simply move on.
Some of the best places to learn about online security are online communities
focused on that subject. AntiOnline is one example of a Web community dedicated
to sharing knowledge that helps people identify and resolve security issues as
they pertain to real-life, online situations. You can interact with professionals
and amateurs alike, sharing stories, ideas and tools designed to help maintain
your online security.
JUST DO IT
We all have things that we’re experts on or that we’d like to learn
more about, topics we want to discuss or get opinions on, subjects that need
to be debated and different viewpoints that need to be aired. Online communities
provide an ideal atmosphere for doing all of that and so much more. Explore,
question and learn—but just remember, it’s all about having fun.