I remember clearly the first online community I was a part of. In late 2003, just a few weeks after it had been built, I joined Monkeyfilter. Monkeyfilter was a spinoff of Metafilter which was closed to new membership at the time. I had been following Metafilter for a few months prior and when I found out someone had created a similar site I jumped on board. At the time I remember hoping that those who were seen as good contributors on Monkeyfilter might be awarded memberships to Metafilter. Although that clearly wasn’t the case, it shortly didn’t matter because I came a part of a tight-knit community of folks who were finding interesting things on the web. And I loved it.
I learned a lot about communities online during that time. This was long before Twitter made us water down our commentary to just 140 characters, and if you had a blog you were probably way too important or involved to join a separate group weblog and interact with us. At times tensions could run high as newcombers would adjust to “the way things ran” on that site. The occasional flameout could lead to the exodus of core members, but overall the site continued to grow in popularity. Trolling was common, and often it was hard to distinguish trolling from sarcastic lighthearted commentary from core members if you were new to the site. Cliques formed, spam was fought, these were interesting times.
When Metafilter opened up its membership I immediately signed on, but remained an active participant at Monkeyfilter. I had become a part of that community. But the writing was on the wall, and years later it appears to be just a few folks continuing to submit interesting links, often with very little commentary. A far cry from the days of 30 posts in a single day and threads that gained several hundred comments alone. It’s actually fairly impressive that after all these years Metafilter still remains a vibrant community considering the rise of Twitter, Facebook, and plenty of other ways to get interesting links and commentary.
Recently I’ve been reliving this idea of an online social community in a way I never would have expected. If you read my blog with any regularity you know I’m part of the online digital storytelling course ds106. Even before the course began folks like Tom Woodward, Jabiz Raisdana, Jose Carlos, Alan Levine, and D’arcy Norman, and of course the fearless leader Jim Groom were interacting and engaging with people. I’ve been a part of plenty of online courses and never seen that level of interaction between “students” in this way. Perhaps it speaks to how much fun ds106 is, perhaps it’s a part of the atmosphere of a MOOC (this is my first one, so I don’t really know what’s considered “normal” in this environment, but I have a sneaking suspicion ds106 is anything but normal).
A community was starting to form through the assignment submission process. We even had our first controversy and walked away unscathed and more determined to “Just make some art, damnit!”
Just 2 weeks after the course had “officially” begun, a man by the name of Grant Potter built an online freeform radio station that took off like wildfire. People were hooked with the ability to submit any music or soundbyte and have it added to the rotation. As live broadcasting began to take place from several different parts of the world and themed “shows” emerged, a clear community was forming from this project alone. The ds106 community had a sister community now of folks that lived and breathed life into this form of media. Grant Potter, Noiseprofessor, Dr. Garcia, Scott Lo, and countless others were experimenting and playing in this new playground. And what some thought might be just a passing fad has continued and grown stronger with time. ds106radio is stronger, more varied, and more entertaining today than ever before, and a community of followers now exists in that space almost completely separate from the course itself.
There are elements of traditional online communities that don’t exist in ds106. There is no moderation. The distributed nature of the course allows everyone to publish anything they want. To date (as far as I am aware of) not a single post has been removed from the firehose feed at ds106.us. Curiously there is also little to no trolling or spam. Abuse of this community has not been present to date, which gives me hope for similar courses and communities that might model after this social experiment.
I’ve gained such valuable friendships and camaraderie in these past few months as a result of ds106, connections that will no doubt last a lifetime. This community of passionate folks is pushing the boundaries of this web we play in, and it’s an exciting time to be a part of something so new and different.