Social Isolation And Online Communities

I’m reading David Silver‘s book Smart Start-Ups which is about building online communities because I am very active in the YouTube community. There are actually many videos and discussions about online community. Some people insist there is no community and that everyone is just out to promote themselves. However, the increasingly popular gatherings and meet-ups prove that people are forming real friendships that they are eager to continue offline.

An online community can be the cure for social isolation but I never found it very compelling until video made it possible to see and hear the people you are communicating with. I think video is an essential part of any online community that aims to create genuine friendship. Even people that originally had some other purpose for using YouTube, like marketing their business or developing their multimedia production skills, wind up getting sucked into the life of the community.

The book Smart Start-Ups mentioned some aspects of social networking sites which I have observed. For example, mobbing is what happens when a large group of people are drawn to an online community. I witnessed mobbing occur when Boh3m3 discovered Stickam and invited his subscribers to online video chat. Now the entire YouTube community spends the majority of its time on Stickam although they still remain loyal to YouTube. Mobbing also occurred when LiveVideo offered a better vlogging experience than YouTube but it was not substantially different so it kind of died off.

Another aspect of social networking which I have observed, but didn’t realize was common, is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, a marketer who pretends to join the community but is really just there to advertise or to promote himself. The YouTube community is definitely vigilant against these individuals and a lot of hostility is directed towards vloggers who appear to have commercial interests. It is tolerated if the person actively participates in the community but if they don’t then it is rejected as old media, i.e. noninteractive one way communication.

The YouTube community has become more important to me than my actual, real life community. The Williamsport community lacks any public forum except the letter section of the right wing rag, the Williamsport Sun-Gazette and I’ve cancelled my subscription to that fountain of official disinformation. The Williamsport community does not offer very many public events, cultural activities, or business networking opportunities. I don’t know my neighbors and don’t have any friends. There are not many local bloggers and no vloggers so you can’t get to know anyone online. When I was working out of my home, I didn’t even socialize with any coworkers or local clients. Williamsport is not my community. It is just a place where I live. The real community is online.

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