My experience online has included years of habituating virtual communities patterned on the electronic frontier motif as defined by Rheingold in the subtitle to his book, The Virtual Community. He offers this definition of the subject:
Virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace. (web)
When I first found community online, I lived a rather isolated life in a small rural town, not given to readers or writers. I was looking for people who talked about more than the crops when I found a small out-of-the-way bulletin board where I got to know a handful of people all using colorful pseudonyms. The anonymity fascinated me, as did the apparent familiarity between the users. Periodically, the community collapsed under the weight of animosity and strife, however, I was hooked on the concept of leaving messages and returning later to find replies. It seemed to me as if I was writing a book where responses could appear on pages of glass.
I looked further until I found some of the large public communities of the late nineties where I connected with many of the people I still communicate with on a daily basis. The experience has enriched my life in numerous ways and the friends I met there followed me from that small town in Arkansas through a divorce, relocation, jobs, and life and server changes. They have been consistent voices in my life as my children grew up and I returned to school to finish my degree , while those friends from Arkansas have not.
For this project I set out to find a forum of a different type. I wanted to see if community exists in a place focused on a particular issue. I found the Unclutterer Forums (http://unclutterer.com/discuss/), a small yet busy set of forums devoted to personal organization. I noted that their archives went back to 2007 and that there seemed to be a lot of activity on a daily basis.
The forums are connected to a blog (http://unclutterer.com/) written by Erin Doland, who is the author of a book, Unclutter Your Life in One Week. As I read further, I could see that the forums are a way of promoting her book, which is a way of promoting her blog, which is also a way of promoting her writing career. I was curious to know if the Unclutterer forums were just a public relations ploy or if they were a virtual community.
The community standards are clearly stated: “Unclutterer is the blog about getting and staying organized. A place for everything, and everything in its place is our gospel.” I wondered if this was enough of a goal to sustain a thriving virtual community. Rheingold noted :
People who use computers to communicate, form friendships that sometimes form the basis of communities, but you have to be careful to not mistake the tool for the task and think that just writing words on a screen is the same thing as real community....