The benefits of participating in an online community

The fact that people can now gather virtually in an online community and share common interests regardless of physical location makes communication much easier. Online communities provide a space for people who want to come together using the Internet, and this can make their lives richer and more interesting. One can easily find kindred spirits within a few days, no matter how shy or self-conscious he or she is. 

Over the past couple of months I've become a member of several online communities. I'm a just a lurker in some of them, a novice in others and a regular in one or two of them. They could all be vaguely characterized as groups of people with the same interests and passions - education and ELT. These communities consist of people who share the same intent, beliefs, resources, preferences, needs, etc. These conditions, and many more, affect the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness within the group. I enjoy participating in all the groups but I've obviously got a favourite. But what is it that makes me feel more comfortable in one community than in another?

My favourite community has a common goal, which is very explicit and gives the participants a sense of direction. As the majority of people learn by example and often follow others, I find it very effective that there's someone who watches over the members all the time (a leader/ community architect/ community manager - you name it). This person guides the participants while giving them a lot of freedom to air their own opinions. The members simply know that they are never alone and that there is somebody out there to listen and help. In addition, there are several core participants that represent the majority of the contributors and that are very important to the community progress. These core members also provide most of the feedback. Needless to say, all opinions and ideas are valued equally. Everybody is tremendously supportive, so the members always feel encouraged to share ideas. This promotes creativity and motivates everybody to be honest about their feelings. A lot of feedback and encouragement provides a sort of psychological reward. It is a well-known fact that participation and contribution is influenced when members of an online community are aware of their global audience. On the other hand, if you don't feel like sharing, nobody forces you to. You can take your time and contribute whenever you feel up to it. By just observing and supporting (so-called lurking) you can contribute valuably to the wellbeing of the whole community and thus make it more cohesive. Finally, I feel that one of the greatest attractions of this community is the sense of connection and belonging to a group users build between each other.

To sum my post up, I'd like to ask myself a question: What have I gained and lost by participating in this particular online community? I've met some amazing people who I'll probably never meet in person but the bond is strong anyway. I've become more confident in certain areas of my activity, such as writing and sharing ideas publicly. I've gained an endless source of inspiration and energy from the other participants. Loss is usually associated with negative emotions. However, not all the things I've lost are negative. I've lost inhibitions related to my online presence and I never feel afraid of posting, commenting or expressing my ideas. Obviously, participating in an online community is time-consuming, but I believe that the time and effort invested is worth it.

I suppose that by now the reader has realized what online community I have described in my post. If you have no idea, here's a clue: it's the community to which this blog is dedicated and by which it is inspired. If you are not a member yet, join in! :-)

*Goal 22/ Cycle 4: Participate in a New Community