Digital Communities

Digital communities are everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, forums etc all serve digital communities. In fact, they are used to create and develop communities. But what is a "digital community", and should we be scared of it?

A digital community may include the following elements:

  • Virtual reality - the community simulates one in the "real" world.
  • Environments are created online where you can interact with other people.
  • You can pretend to be something you're not - leading on to:
  • Develop your own unique online personality that others can get to know.
  • You can learn from others and, in turn, help others. Sharing information and expertise is the name of the game.
  • The nature of digital communities require that you become more wary and cautious. That kind Nigerian general who contacted you out of the blue - does he really want to credit your account with $3 gazillion?
  • Scams can be tested, tweaked and scaled very quickly, easily and cheaply - more so than in the "real" world. It costs very little to create a scam and to bulk email (spam) millions of email addresses. The virtual annonymity of the scammer provides them with a certain amount of protection from being identified and prosecuted.
  • Environments where fantasies can be explored safely for recreation and fun (second life)
  • Interactivity in real time as opposed to interacting with pre-determined set responses (that actually mimic randomness quite closely)

Can you think of any other characteristics of digital communities. What are the pros and cons of developing/participating in a community online?

Methods of cultivating a digital community:

  • Facebook: like email and text messages, you can take your time responding. The fact that disclosures (posts) are public add a new dimension to this form of communication.
  • Forums: similar to the above, but the primary purpose of some is different. For example, to share information, to seek or give assistance etc.
  • Twitter: announce your thoughts in small messages for others to consume.
  • Teleconferencing - an immediate and very realtime gathering. A virtual meeting.
  • Skype - video calls.
  • Instant Messaging - real time digital conversations.

How Can We Use Digital Communities For Good?

How can digital communities help in our educational efforts? Information and opinions can be shared quickly. Look at any forum geared towards 3d animators, for example. Somebody posts a question about the relationship between reflectivity and glossiness in Lightwave 3D, somebody else posts a useful answer, and esoteric knowledge is passed between people who specialise in a very niche area of interest.