I posted this this morning to a newsgroup that I read, but as I look over it, I realize that it’s applicable to all online communities, really, and thought it might be something worth putting here too. I’ve been a member of (and a builder of) many online communities in the 15 years that I’ve been on the Net, and these are some things that came out of my observations from those experiences.
Newsgroups are more than just asyncronous message boards. They become, ultimately, communities. And like all communities, they develop cultures.
Social newsgroups especially do this, but newsgroups that are primarily for information swapping do it as well. comp.lang.perl has a very distinct culture, as an example.
The other thing that communities do is develop a shared history. People who have lived in and been active in the community share experiences with one another, and this builds bonds between them.
And sure, this *can* be intimidating to the New Kid In Town. Here’s a group of people who have laughed together, cried together, shared each others pain, rejoiced in each others small daily triumphs. That creates a group of people who are, in many ways, fiercely loyal to one another. In the best of worlds, it becomes a kind of family. A noisy, sometimes disfunctional family that squabbles amongst itself as often as not. But a family, none the less.
You can’t just come and take what you need from here. You can’t demand to be a part of this. There’s a contract, unspoken, yet as binding as any blood oath. There’s a price for sharing this warmth.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t become a part of this community. Come, learn its ways, observe the paths we walk. See the simple love that grows between people just because they choose to share a piece of their life with others. You can be a part of this. It’s a simple choice. A choice, right now, between fear and love.
Come and join it. Give a bit of yourself to the group, unselfishly, unafraid. What you give to the group will be returned to you, and more.
It’s your choice.