Online Communities

Online communities are formed by groups of computer users who have common interests and purposes to communicate with each other over the Internet. Some Web sites provide tools that allow you to exchange ideas and information in an open interactive forum. You can participate and interact with other users who are online. Some Web sites allow you to add your responses or views to an ongoing conversation when other users are not online. Some online communities provide a facility for sending E-mail messages about the details of discussions.

The following describes some of the different types of online communities.

Social networking Web site: A social networking Web site facilitates building online social groups for people who share common interests. On such Web sites, you must create an account and a profile. People who use the Web site can view your profile and you can visit their profiles. Similar to instant messaging, you can add contacts or friends, share files, and hold discussions on a social networking Web site. For example, Windows Live allows you to view highlights of updates from your contacts on Hotmail, Messenger, and from other social networks such as Facebook. Some social networking Web sites can be used for business purposes only. Such Web sites help you share ideas, post job openings, contact clients, and promote your products or services. On some social networking Web sites, anyone can easily access personal information provided by the users of the Web site. Malicious users can misuse the information available on such Web sites.

Blogs: Blogs are online diaries or journals. You can post articles, daily events, or your thoughts on any subject. Blogs are like personal diaries, where you can restrict access to people who can view and comment on your postings. You can either post your articles on specific Web sites that allow you to post blogs, or you can create your own Web site.
Similar to other online communities, blogs are often subjected to offensive language, graphic content, flaming, and spam.

Chat groups/rooms: Chat groups or rooms are Web sites that you can use to communicate instantly with other people who have logged on to the same Web site. When you chat with someone, it means that you type a line of text and then press the ENTER key. The words that you typed appear on the screens of the other participants, who can then respond in kind. You can even use audio and video media while chatting so that you can talk and see the person you are chatting with. You can also transfer files to other participants. There are many chat rooms available that cater to different topic areas. Depending on your topic of interest, you can sign in to a chat room. You need to sign in to the chat room so that other people in the chat room know that you are online. Today, you can also use mobile devices such as cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and laptops for chatting online. Chat rooms are not often closely monitored. There can be incidents of inappropriate chat, use of explicit language, and harassment. Online chat groups can also be a target for online predators and a channel for identity thefts.

Newsgroups: Newsgroups are online discussion forums dedicated to specific topics. There are newsgroups available for all kinds of topics such as computers, literature, social issues, current affairs, and more. These newsgroups are called Usenet. Newsgroups are like bulletin boards. They include articles on different areas of a topic, other people’s views on that topic, and announcements of various events or job openings. If you have questions for which you need answers, you can post them to the newsgroup. People will read your questions and reply with their answers or opinions. You can search for a newsgroup related to your topic of interest and subscribe to it. Then, similar to sending e-mail messages, you can log on to the newsgroup and post your messages. The only difference is that everyone who logs on to the newsgroup can read your messages. All discussions related to a particular topic are grouped and linked by a single thread of discussion. So, over a period of time, you can continue a discussion on a particular subject with other people. Newsgroups can be subjected to inflammatory messaging. Posting such inflammatory messages is called flaming.

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