A virtual community is often comprised of individuals who interact through specific social media or online platforms to create networks that potentially cross geographical and political boundaries in order to pursue mutual interests or goals. These networks and communities have the ability to connect online users who otherwise feel alone or disconnected in the physical reality of geographic space.
Benedict Anderson made the point that an imagined community is different from an actual community because it is not (and, for practical reasons, cannot be) based on everyday face-to-face interaction between its members. The nation is conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship and ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible. These ideas can strongly apply to the idea of virtual communities and the connections between their online members.
In the health industry virtual communities can allow for open conversation between individuals who are going through similar experiences, whether themselves or in their family. Health care providers can form groups for their patients, and these communities can be especially useful when related to dealing with rare medical conditions. People with rare or debilitating disorders may not be able to access support groups in their physical community and this can make them feel very alone, but online communities can act as primary means for human contact and support. By connecting with others who truly understand the disease, patients can receive help adjusting to life with their disease. An example of this is the Cancer Support Community
In John Suler’s The Psychology of Cyberspace Mike Godwin (creator of Godwin’s Law) explains that joining a virtual community can be confusing or intimidating for a new user and he suggests, “it’s a bit like being dropped in the middle of Manhattan without a map or a guide and trying to find a place you want to live.”
Author and researcher on the subject of online communities, Amy Jo Kim concluded that there are nine basic principles for creating a community and Suler claims that these often apply to virtual communities as well:
- Define the purpose of the community
- Create distinct gathering places
- Create member profiles that evolve over time
- Promote effective leadership
- Define a clear yet flexible code of conduct
- Organize and promote cyclic events
- Provide a range of role that couple power with responsibility
- Facilitate member-created subgroups
- Integrate the online environment with the “real world”
The Virtual Community that is Tumblr
Examples of Tumblr Slang: (don’t fall for these)
- GPOY: “gratuitous picture of yourself;” when used in social media, this can refer to the user, his or her current mood, his or her hobbies shown through a picture of themself, a gif of someone dancing like an idiot or a socially awkward penguin picture.
- Missing E: A helpful but controversial Tumblr plugin. The plugin provides features Tumblr is lacking. Tumblr refuses to provide technical support to users who install the plugin and claims officially that the plugin is dangerous.
- Thinspo/Fitspo: short for “thinspirational or fitspirational” and come in the form of pictures of thin/fit girls, thin/fit related quotes or entire blogs dedicated to being thin/fit.
- Pro-ana: Short for the promotion of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa. A pro-ana Tumblr user might post pictures of dangerously thin people and promote them as the ideal. Tumblr banned such blogs earlier this year, but they still pop up occasionally.
- More examples on “How to speak Tumblr”
The dark side of a virtual community lies in the ability to gather people interested in a topic that may be considered taboo, unorthodox, and dangerous that would be hard, or impossible to connect through in physical reality. ex: “pro-ana” or self harm blogs
However, these dark subjects bring us back to the importance of Tumblr’s virtual community and closeness because users often depend on each other for support, help and friendship.
Tumblr Suicide Watch describes itself as “a running blog to document and track those in need of aid.” Anyone with information on Tumblr users with suicidal intentions can post information on the blog via the “ask” tool. One of the most famous occurences of Tumblr users helping each other in grave times of need was when Jackie Rosas of California successfully saved the life of a troubled girl thousands of miles away from her, this incident was covered by The Huffinton Post.
Another way that tumblr users have been connecting with each other over shared interested and the desire for friendships is through Tumblr “networks“.
“The Song Network: Chose a song to be identified by and you will bond with other members of the group over music – the universal language- and then live happily ever after.”
These groups have been created in order to:
- give members a sense of belonging
- find new friends
- help each other with advice
- gain followers
- learn html
- “have a rocking time”
Journalism of virtual community
Virtual Communities such as Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook have become hot topics for discussions about living in an online world and how these platforms help us to connect with people across the globe. Out of these discussions, stories have emerged that tell interesting tales of friendship, interaction and experience. A new form of journalism has arose out of these tales and many social networking sites have jumped on the opportunity to “make themselves news”. This New York Time article explains how editors are imagining this process:
“If Tumblr were a city of 42 million, we’re trying to figure out how we cover the ideas, themes and people who live in it.”
Although Tumblr is a blogging platform, and not a content creator itself this type of journalism could bring their virtual community closer together, just as Benedict Anderson describes how the newspaper brought nations together. Social networking sites need to uderstand that they need to continuously innovate and find new ways to please users by curating their communities and encouraging them to interact with the sites in new ways.
Twitter has launched “twitter stories” which is described by the site as a place to read about a single tweet that helped save a bookstore from going out of business; an athlete who took a hundred of his followers out to a crab dinner; and, Japanese fishermen who use Twitter to sell their catch before returning to shore.
“Each story reminds us of the humanity behind Tweets that make the world smaller.”