Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Online Community??

I am a semi-regular participant in a couple of on-line social networks. I have pages on MySpace and Facebook. (So far I do not see the attraction to Twitter.) Initially I joined both to keep up with my teenage daughter and her friends, but I have found that both sites can be fun and helpful for me as well.

There are great opportunities to catch up with old friends, meet new people, connect with business contacts and more. Many people are learning and taking advantage of these opportunities. I am just learning about how to use these sites to my advantage.

On these personal pages individuals can post pictures, information, videos and any number of other items to express their personalities. They function as a public, twenty-first century diary. People can blog, be intimate, or be private while letting everyone know what they are doing. All of this information is made public for almost anyone else to see.

Recently I noticed something about these sites, however. There is an emotional disconnect. People post things on line, but do not realize that real people can read it. 

I ran into one of my online "friends" at a restaurant. This friend had recently been on a vacation to a warm and sunny location. Upon returning home this person had posted pictures from the trip online. When I saw him in the restaurant I mentioned his vacation and commented that it appeared he had a good time. He was flabbergasted. He had no idea how I would know anything about his vacation. His vacation was online, but he and I were talking in the "real" world.

Too often people confuse a social network with an online community. And although online communities may exist, we should not assume that they do. We should not believe that just because we are on Facebook, or MySpace we are in a community.

Community requires people paying attention to and caring about one another. Checking out a friend's page for the latest gossip is not community.

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