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online communities…are they real?

By October 6, 2008Networking, Social Media

I happen to live in an intentional community on Martha’s Vineyard. Maybe you’ve heard of co-housing? Basically, a group of people decided to build a neighborhood with both shared and private space…and work together to make it tick. There are 16 houses in my community, and we each own our own house and the 1/4 acre surrounding it. We share acres of land, a garden and pond and a huge community, or ‘common’, house – amongst other things, like governance.

There are fun things to do here at Island Co-housing (potlucks, pick-up frisbee games, a swimming pond) and not so much fun things to do (cleaning the common spaces, cutting down trees that the caterpillars killed, paying the assessment fees). There are people that I love and enjoying seeing, and there are people that I love not so much and would rather not see.

When you put a group of people together, you are bound to have differing opinions, lifestyles and choices, conflicting behaviors and more…and we do – but none of them have been detrimental as of yet.

As I engage on a deeper and deeper level in online communities like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Stumble Upon, Twitter Moms and Mom Bloggers Club, I’ve been asking myself just how my real life community compares with my online community.

The differences are pretty clear:

  1. No one online sees me clad in my pj’s chasing after my dogs and toddlers. The real-life community does, often.
  2. The online community is corporately created and participants are handed rules and how-to’s. The real-life community has had to create this roadmap by consensus (blood, sweat and tears).
  3. Online community is free. The real-life community is not, even close.
  4. I can separate myself easily from people I don’t wish to communicate with online by being invisible. Unless I hide in my house, that’s a bit harder to come by in real life (though not impossible).

And, how are they similar?

  1. In order to work, both sets of community members need to play by the rules, they need to treat fellow members with respect, they need give and take on at least an equal scale – but things will work best if everyone gives more.
  2. The personal is political and the political is personal in both places, these days especially.
  3. I have found angels and assholes in both forums.
  4. The possibilities for each community are endless and my urge to participate is addictive and passionate.

I could go on and on with these lists, but in the end, there is one point about both of these communities that really seals the deal for me. And it affirmatively answers the title question. My real-life community and my online community both make me feel connected.

…and isn’t that the point?

Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Lisa says:

    Well, I met my husband online in a philosophy and religion community (back before Match.com and before it was socially acceptable to meet strangers online, ever) — and I’d say he’s pretty darn real. ;)

    Co-housing … How cool. We are looking at a community when next we move. Nice to meet someone else who’s making it happen.

  • Ron Miller says:

    Nice post, Julie and good points. The big difference in the online world is the chance to leave anonymous comments and I think people often say things online, they might never say in a face to face to context. I’ve heard about two writers in the past week who have literally had their lives threatened online for what they wrote (and what they wrote was not all that controversial). I don’t think that would happen in Twitter or Facebook necessarily because you can control your community, but here in your blog with open comments, people can and will communicate and sometimes unfortunately it’s not always pleasant.

  • Laurel says:

    Enjoyed reading this and I agree both make me feel connected. But you need to have both.

  • Julie Roads says:

    You see, this is what I love about blogging – Laurel, Ron and Lisa – came up with some astoundingly good points!

    Ron – You are so right about people using the anonymity of being online to say things they never would – our community has it’s own vehicle for this –
    it’s called E-Mail. And even though folks will see each other, they do communicate online in ways they never would in public. LOL!

    Thanks you three for these excellent additions.

  • --Deb says:

    First, love the new look.

    Second, I’ve been doing the online socialization thing since about 1987 and have learned one, vital thing.

    People are people, no matter whether you’re talking to them in person, on the phone, or via the internet. Many–most of them, even–are basically good people. Some are fantastic people. Some are just terrible excuses for human beings. But, like any group–they’re everywhere.

    The trick, in virtual reality as well as the real kind of reality, is to find the people you want to socialize WITH. Once you do, you’re set!

  • Julie Roads says:

    Thanks, Deb…it’s so true – unless you’re dealing with a spam machine. And if you can’t figure that out within about 20 seconds, you’re in trouble!

  • Mary says:

    Great post! I’ve been contemplating the online community for quite a bit now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the benefits are being attached to this virtual world far outweigh the cons. Can’t wait to talk to you for “real” on the phone, by the way!

  • Julie Roads says:

    Hi Mary! I can’t wait to talk to you too…and you’ve mentioned yet another perk: the fact that the really good virtual relationships almost always transfer to the real world in some way!

  • Ambajam says:

    What a great post and you are so right on!:) So glad I found your blog through Twittermoms. :) Please stop by and say hello.

    I would love it if you’d consider subscribing to my feed. :)
    http://feeds.feedburner.com/ambajam

  • Julie Roads says:

    Thanks, Ambajam! I will go check out your blog now…find me on Twittermoms so we can follow each other on Twitter!

  • I live in a fairly remote area in rural Australia and my online communities are a must for my sanity! (And I like that they don’t see me in my pjs!!!)

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