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What is an Online Community?

By Kate Monteith
Updated May 17, 2024
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An online community is a group of people who communicate with one another over the Internet, usually with a common interest. Before the advent of the Internet, there was no such thing as a virtual community. Today, vast online communities inhabit the World Wide Web in chat rooms and game rooms across the globe.

The origins of online communities lie somewhere in the beginnings of personal computer use. Small groups of people in colleges, universities, and the military communicated online via message boards and user nets. Common interests brought these pioneers together in the first virtual communities. As the length of the workday grew, and the business world began operating on a 24-hour basis, computer users desired an ability to socialize anywhere, at any hour of the day. Many joined an online community to chat with others who kept nontraditional hours or lived in distant time zones.

With the introduction of more sophisticated user interfaces that allowed information and images to be shared universally, real-time communication became possible. The world of the online community embraced any advances in information technology that enabled people to communicate with others online and form real relationships. Soon, online gaming sites began incorporating real-time chat functions and instant messaging into the gaming action. In some online games, communication between players is the primary purpose and function of the game. Thus was born another type of online community, social gaming.

The desire of humans to interact with other humans in virtual worlds prompted game designers to introduce simple animated characters, known as avatars, or virtual bodies. Each avatar is a unique animated being that is controlled by an individual live participant. Avatars live in a virtual world inhabited by other avatars. As graphics and connectivity have improved, gamers are able to script the avatar’s abilities and appearances to be convincingly realistic. Smooth 3D animations and advanced scripting techniques allow gamers to make avatars do practically anything they wish.

In one popular online game called Second Life ®, millions of participants lead a virtual life with spouses, homes, pets, jobs, cars, shopping, and all the pranks and pitfalls of reality. Some gamers become so obsessed with their online community they begin to eschew real life in favor of a virtual life. But, most people simply enjoy interacting online with others from around the world. No matter what form an online community takes, in the end it is all about people reaching out and communicating.

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Discussion Comments

By sunshined — On May 27, 2011

You really can develop a sense of belonging in an online community that shares your interests in a certain subject. I have joined a few internet marketing forums and was so surprised when I first joined at how helpful most people were. If you don't understand something and asked a question, you would get many helpful suggestions and answers.

Most people are very willing to share their knowledge and expertise with those who are willing to listen and learn. Some people are a little shy about participating at first, but once you realize how easy it is, it sure makes it much more fun.

By myharley — On May 24, 2011

I have found that I get the most use out of an online social community is when I actively participate in the discussions. It is much more interesting when you engage in the conversation or even start a topic. You can learn a lot just reading the different posts, but really get a sense of online community when you are an active participant.

The hardest part is narrowing down which ones you want to be a part of. For most subjects and topics there are so many forums to choose from that you have to select just a couple for the sake of time. I always try to find ones that are active and have a lot of current posts.

By andee — On May 23, 2011

There are so many online communities for a person to be involved in. One of my favorites is to join online community forums in subjects that are interesting to me. I have been able to learn so much in these communities, and have found most people very willing to share their experiences and information.

I belong to a couple organic health food forums, and the information I have received has been so helpful. You are able to interact with people from all over the world who are interested in the same things you are, and it can give you such a better perspective on the subject and very helpful information.

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