Sunday, May 06, 2007

Thinking About Wikipedia, the "Real Life" World and Virtual Community

There's a fascinating discussion going on at Making Light about Wikipedia. I've participated in a couple minor edits there and made some comments on articles under discussion for deletion - I'm certainly not a Wikipedia regular. However, I'd like to see the problems get worked out there. I find myself wondering, after reading the comments on ML, is it possible that part of the problem is that we're still a generation or two away from being completely comfortable and conversant with being members of virtual communities?

I wish I had the luxury of time to take and explore this fully. I would love to do nothing but read and research and interview until I had a better grip on the nebulous thoughts I have about what virtual community life really means. It's a huge part of my life - at work as well. For example, my main partner at work is in Amsterdam - we mostly get our work done via email and conference calls. Meetings are done online and there are a host of online collaboration tools we use, as well.

Right now my best friends are online friends. Offline, I pretty much only meet people at work. With those people, outside of work we have little in common, so they don't reach out to socialize with me and I honestly can't think of a way to reach out to them, either. Add to it the distances most people have to commute to work these days, (at least where I live). So, even if I met someone at work with whom I shared a number of interests, I don't live in their neigborhood, which makes sustaining friendships challenging for both parties - somebody is going to have to drive quite some distance to get together to make it work. I guess I could join local clubs or take classes and "get out more" but I'm rather impatient with the amount of time it takes to establish meaningful connections that way.

With my online friends we have met due to common interests and enjoy talking about the same things and our interactions aren't constrained by time or geography. I can start a conversation on a thread at AW or here in my blog or in the comments of their blogs and if they're not available right now, well, sooner or later they'll reply. I know I'm not alone in this - given the growing numbers of online communities - from forums, to MySpace, to Second Life, to MMPORPGs, these are all groups of people with common interests, finding each other and establishing friendships and connections, many (most?) without any interaction outside of the virtual world.

So what impact will a growing virtual world have on the future - on my children just entering the adult world, and on their children? That fascinates the heck out of me. Like my great-grandmother who was born before the turn of the 20th century and saw enormous change - from horse and wagon as the primary mode of transportation to watching a man land on the Moon - it's an interesting time to be alive, watching the growth of the virtual world.


Benjamin Solah said...

I think the thing with Wikipedia that makes it mildly credible are the sources.

I only use it for minor facts and such and don't consider it in anyway the final source on subjects, especially politics.

I mainly use it for history. If I want to know more, usually the sources provide me with a bit more depth if I need it.

Crabby McSlacker said...

I get the feeling that many pundits, as well as a lot of people in the general public who don't spend much time on line, see these "virtual communities" as somehow suspicious. Or at least vastly inferior to "real" face to face communities.

But I can't help but feel that online community building is overall a very positive thing--both for the participants themselves and the world in general. Communication and shared experience, whether virtual or face-to-face, promote understanding and compassion more often than conflict and divisiveness. At least in my (somewhat limited) experience.

Dawn said...

I can identify very strongly with your feeling of not having a lot in common with many of the people around you. I live in a small community and the few people to whom I've mentioned that I've written a book simply look at me strangely - as if they don't quite understand what I'm saying.

Family and workmates have been immensely supportive and I'm grateful for that.

This reaching out to people online has to be a good thing. I feel more 'accepted' by people I've met in the last few months online than I do with many people I've known for years.

Anonymous said...

What Dawn said. And great post, Dawno.

In my opinion, the internet is one of the best things to come around the block for introverts. I'm not much of a socializer IRL, but online, I love to reach out to people with whom I share common interests. Socializing online is relatively easy for me because I'm more comfortable writing to people than talking F2F. Online communication opens up a whole new means -- a whole new world, in fact ;) -- of possibilities for making friends and connecting with other people.

There's no doubt in my mind that Emily Dickinson would have loved the internet! :-D

Frank Baron said...

For very many years, my online peeps were the main contacts in my life and my closest friends. Some of them became 3D friends as well - a terrific bonus.

I think the main benefit of online relationships is the way they have of shrinking the planet. It's inevitable that the word "we" will stop being used in terms of what our nationality or religion is and come to mean "fellow human."

It's a first and important step to a truly global community.

Yeah - I watched a lot of Trek...what of it? ;)

Anonymous said...

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Dawno said...

Thank you Thommalyn! I'm honored you thought this worthy.

AstonWest said...

I imagine most people enjoy the ability to make friends through the virtual world because it offers a "barrier" through which the pains and sorrows that go along with real-world relationships.

Not to mention, message boards and blogs allow one the opportunity to step in whenever they have the time available...attempting to find scheduled times to get together with people in real life can be a real pain in the ass.

Myself, I actually prefer online friendships and interactions (even at work), because I'm much better at hashing out just the right words on a computer than I am trying to come up with those same "just right" words verbally.