Why do people join and build Virtual communities?

People have been using online spaces since the beginning of the Internet to communicate. That includes prior to the World Wide Web, when BBS, or electronic bulletin boards and email loops connected folks across time and space. (For a good short history of the Internet, see http://www.dsv.su.se/internet/documents/internet-history.html). Many found that they began to form bonds of one sort of another. Today, the online forum tracking service, ForumOne (http://www.forumone.com) had more than 270,000 distinct communities and forums registered at their site in 1999. (The site no longer lists total numbers.) And many more remain unlisted.

Here are some of the types of activities people have enjoyed through these online connections.

  • Socialize - meeting people, playing around, sharing jokes, stories and just taking interest in each other. Communities like this often focus around bulletin boards and chat rooms. An example of such a community is Electric Minds at http://www.electricminds.org
  • Work together (business) - Distributed work groups within companies and between companies use online community to build their team, keep in touch and even work on projects together. A very detailed description of how online work groups work can be found at http://www.awaken.com and http://www.bigbangworkshops.com .
  • Work together (community - geographic) - Freenets (see the Freenet Directory) have offered local communities ways to communicate and work together. Some have even combined this with ISP service. Community groups such as soccer teams, school groups and others have used online community to provide forums for information and discussion, helping bring groups together.
  • Work together (issues) - Virtual communities have been very important to people who share interests in issues and causes. Support groups for people dealing with certain diseases, causes such as politics or the environment, or people studying together, all can form a nucleus for an online community.
  • Have topical conversations - Online salons and discussion forums such as the Well (http://www.well.com), Salon's TableTalk (as of mid 2001 a paid subscription model) (http://www.salon.com), Cafe Utne (http://www.utne.com) and others have formed communities of people who enjoy conversations about topics and shared interests. ForumOne noted in 1999 that the top ten topics for forums registered at their site are around the topics of (in order): relationships (16%), "mega sites (diverse topics, aggregations of smaller conferences - 11%), business and finance (8%), health (5%), hobbies (4%), religion (3%), music (3%), international (3%). It would be interesting to revisit those stats at the start of 2002.