First my best definition:
An online community is a group of people with common interests who use the Internet (web sites, email, instant messaging, etc) to communicate, work together and pursue their interests over time.
Below you'll see that I've provided an illustration of how and why online communities can be valuable.
Online communities are communities first and online second. By this, I mean that we all live in and around real-world communities all the time- just forget the word online for now.
You live in a geographic community, you work within a professional community, you may go to church with a religious community and your friends represent a social community. Wherever people share common interests, there is a community.
However, you may never feel that you are a part of these communities. One reason may be geography- it simply isn't easy enough for the members of your community to get together in a single place. Secondly, there may not be an easy way for you to communicate and get to know the other community members. Lastly, it may be that no one else realizes the community exists.
Now, in terms of these real life communities, think about the possibilities if there were ways to overcome these obstacles.
- What if you were able to be an active member of these real-life communities?
- What if there was an easy way to find and get to know the other members?
- What if you could have discussions with them easily?
- What if you could compare notes and use other members as resources?
- Do you think you could learn from other members?
- Do you think you could expand your network of friends and associates?
- Do you think the whole community could benefit by working together?
- Do you think you would feel like you were a part of something special?
Online Communities provide real-world communities a place to come together using the Internet. By being a member of an online community, you benefit in many of the same ways you would a real world community- it's just that you use the Internet.
- Instead of traveling to a coffee shop or hotel, you meet at a web site
- Instead of having face-to-face discussion, you post messages to one another
- Instead of picking a time and place to meet, the community is always-on.
- Instead of depending on a physical location or resource to keep track of community events and activities, a web site can do it for you.
All-in-all, online communities are about people needing an easier and more accessible way to get together. In business or socially, online communities have the power to create lasting and productive relationships where none existed before. In the future, in many different forms, I believe that online communities will become a greater part of our lives.