Forums Are The Sandbox Of The Web

By | 14/08/2007

The concept of community is an old one, coming from an evolutionary need for more than one pair of eyes to watch out for predators and other threats. over time the sense of community has evolved and become as great as it is today. There are however pockets of social discord. I believe that forums are the sandboxes of the World Wide Web.

In chatrooms, there are always three or four people who chat together in the public space, whilst all around people ask A(ge), S(ex), L(ocation)or at least they did. Today, everyone has a profile and the question is now redundant. When individuals stir up trouble the room will resolve this problem. Just two nights ago whilst on operator11.com, I saw a little skirmish that was quickly resolved and I realised that even when people are in an audiovisual medium online there can be moments of tension.

That’s on a medium that’s fleeting. You write your comment, then someone else does and you have a conversation which will disappear whilst the ideas remain. Forums are another social beast. They take a lot of time to create and require a number of elements. First, they need people who spend a lot of time online. They can belong to communities of artists, fans of Apple products, or part of the scientific community. They are built as a place where conversations and debates can take place. They can help you resolve computer problems or advertise the work you’ve done. They are great because whilst they require participants to spend a lot of time over a period of weeks, they are relatively easy to interact with. If you want to write a long post you can, and if you just want to say that you agree or disagree, you can say so in just one line.

Some of these groups have become tight-knit, like villages or year grades within a school. Everyone knows everyone else and so a “gang mentality”, for lack of a better term, arises. They all send each other private messages, they’ve met and they’ve chatted. They’ve been friends for years. They’re isolated hence my use of the word sandbox. As you spend more and more time in a community so it feels like your home and feels like a place where strangers are no longer welcome. I’ve been a member of many forums and I’ve been known to post heavily within these communities, but only when I am accepted. For a long time, I was a member of two communities and I would spend hours in both. I wrote about them so if you do a little research you may find which ones I am talking about.

Today for the first time in months I joined a forum (which I will not identify) and decided to introduce myself, after seeing that someone on Facebook had recommended the site. I wrote my post and looked at other websites for some time before returning to the site. I read one comment and it was positive but the second one was offensive. It’s common knowledge on the world wide web that 80% of communication is nonverbal therefore if you write something be aware that it may be misunderstood. If it’s written and it’s within a forum then beware of the gang mentality because they will attack you. I wrote a response to the message I received and asked what that person thought should be the second line of the introduction, rather than the one I had written.

That’s when one member and then another, and then a third began attacking me, dissecting and ripping apart any simple mistake, as if they were piranha on a lamb’s leg. They had a field day, really enjoying the destruction of my persona.

I was hurt. I thought that this was going to be a professional website where I could have an intelligent conversation and advice on how to get work but instead they showed a complete disregard for social civility on a web forum. You don’t use caps lock and you don’t use bold characters to make your point. You write in one font and make sure that you’ve understood what was intended by the post. They didn’t. I’m reminded of the reason why I am no longer part of any forums (although I still have my logins.) Why be part of something small when you can part of something bigger, on a global scale.

The blogosphere and web 2.0 are based on the idea that you’re part of a global interactive community. Anyone can become part of it and you prove himself by the quality of his writing and logic. There are groups of friends, but these are healthy. They look outwards and have no boundaries. It is for this reason that a new generation of social groups has formed on the World Wide Web. These are based around communities in the physical world.

That’s where Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter come in. These three social networking websites work on one simple principle. These are friends that you know in real life, people you have shared dinners with, worked with, played with, and grown up with. Everyone knows each other and behaves himself. If I say something out of line five others will make sure I know how to be a better member of the community but they won’t attempt to destroy me. If there is a problem they will help me and show compassion. They will show each other this.

When I went to the Twitter meet up I met some great people. I met people who share my interest in technology – the conversation was easy. They all write and express themselves in public. They have blogs, audio podcasts, and video programs and they’re interacting in an open system, where you know their names. It’s welcoming. It’s the mature web. It’s web 2.0. It’s filled with ideas and dynamism.

A little later in the day I checked the website URL and found out that this was a free forum that was part of a larger domain. Good forums are all paid for by the community leader. As a result, the conversations and sense of community are far more welcoming and that’s what people look for before joining.

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