Monday, March 19, 2012

Baym Ch 4: Communities and Networks

Dear Ms. Nancy K. Baym,

Your chapter describing online communities and networks is filled with significant information including the definitions, aspects, and effectiveness of these online systems.  What is important to remember as a reader, and as an online user, is that the internet was not always filled with conversational communities; rather, it was mainly one-to-one communication systems that were available for use.  E-mail was, and is still, one of the main forms of communication over online systems.  This type of communication is not the easiest in that it requires a response one at a time.  Some people are not always on their computers or on their phones, and therefore, do not always get e-mails right when they are sent.  Despite this factor, e-mail is a great one-to-one communication system because it allows for people to take their time to write what they need to say without pressure and also it can be created in a professional manner.  As you introduce the idea of online groups and their development in online sysstems, you mention that "community" may not always be the best word to use because many people disagree with whether the definition is true to its stance in online systems.  What I found most important and informative was the way you split these online groups up into five different categories in order to display the similarities between them and the term "community" in our world today.  A sense of space, shared practice, shared resources and support, shared identities, and interpersonal relationships are all categories in which can be similarly related to characteristics and categories of communities.  The term "geography" was brought about and I felt that this was an important term in the discussion.  I feel that people do have a point when they say that communities are usually in one place in the same "geographical" area.  This does make sense; however, I feel that people who say this are not looking at the term "community" as an "online community", rather, they are sticking to a more traditional term for the word.  Sharing space and sharing practice, or "routinized behaviors", with others definitely consists of being in a community where users can "capture meanings that are important to them and the logics that underlie their common sensibilities".  If you think about it, however, people in communities offline are not always "sharing the same practice".  I can live in a community where many people think differently than me or see things differently than I do.  Also, in online groups, you don't always have to share the same beliefs -- hence, how discussions arise and build.

To continue with the aspects of communities, the idea of normative standards implicating power structures is definitely an important point that you touched upon in your article.  I feel that it is true that some people rely on peer group standards when they form impressions online.  Some people will go along with the norm just to fit in -- and some may go against it to stand out.  These positions bring about a certain power structure where some users seem more prominent and powerful than others.  In online discussions, people can find "emotional support", or are able to turn to others for advice or even common knowledge on certain topics.  This feeling of belongingness within the social integration definitely can be seen in both online and offline communities.  Here, online systems and offline communities are similar in that they allow for social and emotional integration inside of networks (or groups of people).  As indicated in the reading, all of these shared qualities an lead to shared identities.  I feel that this term comes with a bad and good side.  The good side is that people can interact and connect with eachother on a "we" level -- and sometimes create strong points or even such things as petitions.  However, sometimes shared identities can become negative.  Some people may hide behind their online identities and some people may even just go along with what everyone else is saying.  In your article, you mentioned the term "lurkers".  More often than not, an online user is a lurker.  I don't necessarily think it is bad to be a lurker because one can simply be reading information out of curiosity or just to learn about a topic and the different viewpoints on it.

Lastly, you mention that online systems allow for interpersonal relationships.  This definitely can relate to real-life, offline communities because relationships are always formed between the daily interactions of people.  The more people post, the more people discuss -- the more likely it is to create personal relationships and feelings inside of online systems and groups.  Some people find it easier to connect over the internet, while others find it easier to connect on a face to face basis.  Despite the differences, there are many similarities between online groups and actual 'communities'.  I feel that the term community can be used to describe online groups because it touches upon many aspects of the word and its meaning.  Of course not every aspect of a offline vs. online community will be the same; however, the formation and connections that can form over online groups can definitely allow it to stand as a type of community of users in our extremely technological world today. 

Thank you,
Loralyn Sortino

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