Online forums: I am a member of several online forums. The one that I wish to share with you is http://britishexpats.com/forum/ I joined the forum in March 2007. This is another forum http://www.emigratenz.org/forum/index.php that I am a member of.
Before I go on to relate online forums to theory etc I just wanted to note that it has taken me three days to get the first paragraph done because every time I went to either forum to look for examples of posts to show you, I got distracted ;) in fact I ended up posting a reply and sending a pm to someone who was in my shoes as of three years ago. I just couldn’t help myself, I empathised with the post for help and that assistance was my initial motivation for joining the forum. Has this brought about the realisation that I have graduated from the ‘anonymous lurker’ to the ‘expert advisor’? Not that I have any delusions of being an expert, it just seemed a fitting term for the transition in this context.
So using the example that I have just given, where does this fit into Downe’s theory? Is it a group or network, or both? What about Ettienne’s Community of Practice? These are two online communities that I am a member of. I originally joined the forum for the reasons of: Common purpose – I wanted to get to NZ and tapped into those who had already made the journey both physically and psychological negotiating the barriers of NZIS and transferability of employment skills. Sounds like a good example of Putnam’s social capital mixed with Tonnies Gesellschaft (for those seeking advice) and Gemeinschaft (for those who are advising and/or moderating/facilitating the forum. It includes the same elements and dynamics as the sense of community outlined in 1986 by McMillan and Chavis only this is the 21st century version.
I have noticed that the same people access both forums. I have noticed that many of the people who gave me advice are still there giving other people advice. I can’t speak for anyone else but I feel that it meets Rheingold’s definition of a virtual community.
A cautionary note:
There was a third forum www.uk2nz.com which has sadly closed now. It was where I got most of my help in 2006. Participation by the owner went dormant. Two moderators carried on and someone eventually took it over but people had moved over, this is when I became a member of the other two. There was also something else gong on, someone started spamming the site and some of the discussions, well lets just say that they didn’t conform to netiquette.
I might try and interview the person who took over the forum………..more to follow……….