Flutterby™! : Online community <-> Real community

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Online community <-> Real community

2002-05-06 20:02:39+00 by Shawn 16 comments

Over on /. they're talking about the success or failure of attempting to set up online communities based on geography as well as interest. This is of course not new to us here at Flutterby, but I found it interesting that the concept may be taking off in the maintream world.

Years ago, I tried to start a business based on a commercial version of this concept (it failed and in the process I learned that I am not, nor do I want to be, a businessman) and I'm starting a new project to help keep employees of Humongous Entertainment together and active with each other.

Is this the future of the social landscape? Or is it just a bunch of geeks, who otherwise don't run in social circles, attempting to duplicate/recreate a system that they simultaneously despise and desire?

[ related topics: Technology and Culture Flutterby Meta Sociology Community ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-05-06 23:22:24+00 by: TC

An excellent question? Flutterby certainly is a petri dish of that ilk and seems to be thriving with input from 4 loci (Bay Area, Chatanooga, Seatle, Boston). Maybe tomorrow we'll all be doused in chlorine...

#Comment made: 2002-05-06 23:59:26+00 by: Larry Burton

Make that five. I'm about to be joining Gary and Eric in the Atlanta area.

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 01:01:10+00 by: greon

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 01:02:42+00 by: greon

(oh, dear I may've created an empty comment just now.)

a good time to disclose that one of the reasons I read Flutterby is that I live in Marin County, CA.

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 05:08:14+00 by: John Anderson

there's a flutterby micro-cluster in the DC area as well, I think.

As far as "the future of the social landscape", <shrug> Just like telephones made close long-distance relationships (not necessarily romantic; all relationships) easier to maintain than just letters, the 'net makes other sorts of long-distance relationships easier to start and nuture.

That said, I think that if I have close friends that are in the same geographic vicinity, I'm going to be much more inclined to interact with them in person than on the 'net (ever though I'll still prefer the 'net to a phone call, oddly enough.)

Geez, did that meander as much as it seems like it did?

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 05:49:28+00 by: Dan Lyke

greon, no worries about the empty comment, I need to figure a good solution that's consistent with my keeping the history around. And just not add empty comments, too (at this point everyone groans: "How hard is it to add "if ($cgi->param('_text') ne ''?").

I've actually got a good amount of experience with the crossover between virtual and real-life communities.

Chattanooga had a very thriving real life community of people who'd met via the local FidoNet network. I met several of the Flutterby regulars through the Saturday morning breakfasts at the Old Country Buffet. Chattanooga On-line grew out of some of those FidoNet[Wiki] systems and a group which wanted to expand that into a real-time network which reached beyond the computing community into the population at large.

(That's a history for another time, but it involves Chattanooga's first public terminal in a coffee shop, run down several floors via an RS-232 line, and a moment of sheer panic when Mike said "I'm tired of waiting on a committee, I've ordered us a T-1 line at [dollar amount that nearly pushed Debbie and me over the edge], but it's okay because we've got two months before they get it installed, and 30 days after that to pay for it.")

For a while, Fairfax had Terminals Of Fairfax Unite (TOFU). I forget the details around the schism and abandonment of that group, part of it involved some whining about the owner moderating it when he was getting involved in politics, but I adopted the chatters and set up a group which eventually dwindled to a music announcement once every few months.

I think the real lesson I've gleaned from these meanderings is that a community needs a set of common interests. The Fairfax mailing list fell apart because local interests weren't common enough,. and with the whole universe out there to interact with, the neighbors with whom we hadn't forged real-life bonds just weren't compelling. The FidoNet gatherings at the Old Country Buffet worked because we all already knew we had things in common.

Geography, especially in urban areas, is no guarantee of common interests, which is why so many of these geographically based things fail.

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 16:13:34+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

Geography, especially in urban areas, is no guarantee of common interests

True. But for me this issue is very central to my social personality. Like John, I prefer to communicate over the 'net - much prefer, in fact - to telephones. I absolutely hate phones (except for when they're connecting me to the 'net ;-)

I like being with and around people in real life but, outside of work, I almost never am. I don't really have a [physical] social circle. And yet I crave one. So I find myself constantly looking for ways to marry an online community (which is an environment I'm familiar with and comfortable in) with in-person activities and socialization. Since I do almost no travelling (and doing so is a large production), this necessitates a local geographic element.

I agree that geography is not a guarantee of common interest, and therefore no guarantee of community. But I also believe that as the newness of global connectivity wears off, people [may|will] turn back to their neighbors. Actually, that's not entirely true - I believe we must do this if we are to stop drifting apart. The 'net is a wonderful thing and it is great to be able to communicate with anyone, no matter where they are. But our social personality has not kept up with technology. Instead of bringing us together, this global communication is driving us apart. Online relationships are, no matter how involved and/or interesting, still faceless. They don't [can't?] have that close personal connection that physically being with and touching another does. In a sense, the 'net is helping us to further dehumanize each other.

Over the years, I've gotten to know Dan fairly well from his posts and writings. I have a pretty good idea how he will react/respond to various topics and opinions. But the honest truth is that if Dan was hit by a car and died, it wouldn't effect (affect?) me nearly as deeply as if the same thing were to happen to one of the people (from the same communities) that I've actually met in person. Certainly I'd feel bad about Dan's death - but I most likely wouldn't weep as I'd be likely to for the others.

But then maybe I'm just an out-of-touch social misfit who silmultaneously despises coctail parties and yet craves human contact...

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 16:59:34+00 by: Pete

I recently started hanging out with some folks I first met online in the DC area. Having fun so far, even though they guilted me into updating my site again.

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 17:50:04+00 by: Mars Saxman

The Seattle goth community has clustered itself around a web-based message board. Membership is by no means universal, but odds are better than even that any random person you meet at one of the local goth/industrial/fetish/etc clubs has an account on the seagoth board.

It's quite an odd setup. Even back in the local-BBS days of the '80s we would get together in person at most once a month. Here, you can go out three or four nights a week and see people you know from the board. The online presence increases communication and makes it much easier to get to know people, but the point - for most, anyway - is still the in-person interaction.


#Comment made: 2002-05-07 18:54:25+00 by: other_todd

Shawn: word.

I spend probably a little too much time thinking about this, and you said more or less what I'd say. I'd add only this: Not only would some dramatic event such as a marriage or death affect me somewhat less - as if slightly removed - in the case of an online friend ... I realized last year that I don't really KNOW my online friends. No matter how much I know about them, I don't really know them.

In several years of Flutterby reading and occasional correspondence, I have learned many things about Dan Lyke and he, I'm sure, has learned a few things about me. But I don't know him, and he doesn't know me. And if we met each other - which, knock wood, will happen one day - we would be surprised in numerous ways just by finding out what we didn't know.

Even one meeting can help. I correspond with Debra Hyde only on rare occasions - not for lack of friendship, but just because we're always juggling things and slow with our emails - but I feel I know Debra a shade better, for having had one day's worth of face-to-face conversation with her, than I know some people with whom I have exchanged several emails a day for several years.

If anything, my heavy existence in the online world has taught me how poorly it substitutes for personal contact. And I'm saying this as someone who has definite hermit tendencies!

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 18:55:35+00 by: other_todd

By the by, semi-germane to the above, it's looking like Debby and I will be in San Francisco at the beginning of October. FYI.

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 19:03:06+00 by: Shawn

Mars; that's exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. <starry sigh...> I'd love to be part of the goth scene, but I'm not into the more industrial/punk aspects. I'm more of a closet, moderate goth.

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 20:51:31+00 by: Dan Lyke

The punks I've known have only been able to tolerate the perky-goths. Regular goths and punks seem to mix like sodium and water, so maybe you're looking at the wrong sub-genre.

On the reduced sense of attachment in online relationships, I agree. I don't have the moment right now to go and look, but Columbine has done a lot of musing on the topic. I wonder if the sheer quantity of people with whom I'm able to stay in regular touch, especially since some of that is largely a one-to-many relationship (ie: I and a gazillion others follow their web page, and occasionally trade email), simply dilutes the effect?

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 21:21:41+00 by: Dan Lyke

D'oh. Skim at work, miss comments. Sorry other todd. And let's block out that beginning of October time now.

#Comment made: 2002-05-07 21:29:40+00 by: Shawn

..."perky-goths"? That almost sounds like it might be my crowd...

#Comment made: 2002-05-08 14:01:45+00 by: meuon

Wow.. ancient internet history. And I still do things that make people gasp but work out OK.. :) But the word community is the important part and a Geek's idea of a community is a little different. I express things here I don't talk about many other places and get to relate to people in different places. And I started this post over 24hrs ago and just got to hit the 'comment' button. What a week!