An online community is a virtual community that exists online and whose members enable its existence through taking part in membership rituals. An online community can take the form of an information system where anyone can post content, such as a bulletin board system or one where only a restricted number of people can initiate posts, such as Weblogs. Online communities have also become a supplemental form of communication between people who know each other primarily in real life. Many means are used in social software separately or in combination, including text-based chat rooms and forums that use voice, video text, or avatars.
The Development of Online Communities
The idea of a community is not a new concept. What is new, however, is transferring it over into the online world. A community was previously defined as a group from a single location. If you lived in the designated area, you became a part of that community. Interaction between community members was done primarily face-to-face and in a social setting. This definition for community no longer applies. In the online world, social interactions no longer have to be face-to-face or based on proximity. Instead, they can be with literally anyone, anywhere. There is a set of values to consider when developing an online community. Some of these values include: opportunity, education, culture, democracy, human services, equality within the economy, information, sustainability, and communication.
Cost plays a role in all aspects and stages for online communities. Fairly cheap and easily attainable technologies and programs have also influenced the increase in establishment of online communities. While payment is necessary to participate in some online communities, such as certain dating websites or for monthly game subscriptions, many other sites are free to users such as the social networks Facebook and Twitter. Because of deregulation and increased Internet access, the popularity of online communities has escalated. Online communities provide instant gratification, entertainment, and learning.
Building Online Communities
Every online community has a distinct set of members who participate differently. A lurker observes the community and viewing content, but does not add to the community content or discussion. A novice engages the community, starts to provide content, and tentatively interacts in a few discussions. A regular consistently adds to the community discussion and content and interacts with other users. A leader is recognized as a veteran participant, connecting with regulars to make higher concepts and ideas. Finally, an elder leaves the community for a variety of reasons. For instance, the elder might experience a change in interests or lack the time to stay connected.
In 2001, consultants at McKinsey & Company did a study where they found that only 2% of transaction site customers returned after their first purchase. In contrast, 60% of new online communities users began using and visiting the sites regularly after their first experiences. Online communities have changed the game for retail firms, as they have forced them to change their business strategies.
While payment is necessary to participate in some online communities, such as certain dating websites or for monthly game subscriptions, many other sites are free to users such as social networks Facebook and Twitter.