Internet communities in a world of Facebook and Twitter are completely different to what they are when I first started joining and investigating them. Years ago I was massively involved with the forum scene, starting with an awful Nintendo forum that I just wanted to talk about Gamecube games on and gradually ending up with accounts all over the web for various topics. Each had their niché, I had accounts with Windows Vista Forums, Ubuntu Forums and just about anything that ever took my interest that I thought I might need help or could offer help to others on.
These days, things are different. Forums are not the prevalent thing anymore. Facebook is not an Internet Community to me. When I was using forums there was one particular forum (no longer in existence) that I used more than any and that was because it had a real community feel. We all knew each other, we all bantered with each other and we all did stuff together regardless of the fact that everyone was hiding behind a pseudo name (mine wasn’t the most subtle and took the form of Timmy). We helped each other when there were problems with things that each respective member knew about and it had a great sense of community.
Recently however, Forums are not necessarily the prevalent thing for interacting with people you don’t know. You’ve got your Facebook for chatting and posting things for people you know to see and you’ve got twitter to post short messages to be viewed by anyone who might hunt them down. Some people just love talking to people over the Internet that they don’t know. It’s a great way to seek advice if your embarrassed about something. It’s a great way to interact with experts in an area that the people you surround yourself with might not know about. For example, if I wanted to learn about robotics (which I do), I could go and find a website where complete strangers would be willing to help me for nothing. I’ve been getting involved in a few of these recently. Namely the StackOverflow family of websites where I’ve been getting assistance with programming problems but also through some of their other websites such as travel, IT security and things like that. It’s fascinating to me that people will genuinely help you out for nothing but virtual Karma. It’s like it’s own economy of respect and it’s mesmerising in so many ways. I can completely understand it as well. The first time I helped someone out and they appreciated in the form of an up vote I felt like I’d done a good deed. It genuinely felt good although it did play on the”if you tell people everything you know, your of no value” rule that I’ve been told so many times, I felt I’d helped someone out and believe it or not, many people have helped me out in return. I’m not even just talking seconds of peoples life, a small post, people are reading through large blocks of code to help me out and pointing out things that might improve my skills. I’m a large fan of StackOverflow and what it’s doing for the world.
Now onto another site that plays with my mind a bit too much. Reddit. Reddit has a community and it’s strange. This is a website that thrives on karma or upvoting and downvoting like no other. By upvoting someone you can help them gain karma on their profile and maybe even get their post to the front page (particularly if your a libertarian scientist who loves valve games). Reddit is absolutely huge and like any huge online website that allows people to post it is full of both amazing people and absolutely awful human beings. One of the things I love about Reddit is how the sheer scale of it benefits the overall community as whole and how you can find something for yourself on there. As you can see in the above screenshot I have customised the toolbar to contain a list of sub-reddits that contain posts about my interests, the list is as follows:
- Kingston University
- San Francisco State University
- Explain To Me Like I’m Five
All of the above contain quality posts that are relevant to my interests. Now some users of Reddit probably just go to the front page and see what has happened recently and click on a few meme pictures and enjoy themselves but there is actually a lot more to this website. Once you see past all the nonsense that is on there, it can actually be extremely useful. Tech, Geek and Futurology are usually just links to sites that I’ve usually read on my daily blog read however the comments are usually really insightful into what other people believe such articles are saying. They are usually more comprehensive, more humorous and generally better than the ones that might be posted on that actual website. Because people will do it for karma. Robotics, Business and Economics are really interesting to watch because some of the people on there are really qualified, really knowledgeable and are willing to share their opinions and help. When you get further down to even more specialised ones such as my university sub-reddits I follow, you are much more likely to find a community experience here because it is a smaller group of people and if you frequently visit, you’ll start noticing the same people. You can associate posts with people and discover behaviours of users within the sub-reddit. Find out who you like etc. I avoid things such as politics, atheism and some of the more prevalent sub-reddits, mainly because they are full of some of the most infuriating users on earth. Granted sometimes they may have a point but it’s not my cup of tea whatsoever. I just wouldn’t get involved in it. To be honest it took me a very long time to ever get a Reddit account because it’s not entirely necessary, until I had a question to ask or some help to offer there was no need. I literally despised the website a few years ago but it really grew on me when I discovered the interesting sub-reddits. Then you’ve got sub-reddits such as “ask me anything” and “explain to me like I’m five”. These are both amazing just because of some of the people that are on it, I mean you’ve got people asking multimillionaires questions and gettings responses, you’ve got Stan Lee speaking to fans and many companies. Then “explain to me like I’m five” is just awesome for reading when you’re bored (procrastinating) some people are really good at doing what you wish some teachers would do when you can’t wrap your head around something and you’ve got hundreds of potential people to try and explain it simply, one is usually the right way for you.
So there you have it, I’ve come a long way as a person since the forum days and there is still kind of communities around however they’re just not in the same format. You can find community with anonymity online if that’s your thing but I don’t think we’ll be seeing massive discussion forums as much in the future. I remember the Ubuntu Forums being the most helpful community ever in fixing a problem with a computer problem however nowadays I guess I’d head to the Linux StackOverflow as I’d be sure to get an answer twice as fast!