1) The online community has become an internet counter culture:
Without a great deal of prior knowledge of blogging and life online I had assumed wrongly that users of online communities were very much a sub-culture, using language and concepts I would not understand.
My friend talks ‘at me’ about outdated Java script – I feared it would be a similar scenario.
But this has proven not to be the case. The online communities I represent are filled and fuelled by people from all walks of life, with varying degrees of IT knowledge and experience.
No two bloggers can be categorised in the same way and no two contributors post information on exactly the same subjects.
The users, therefore, have forged themselves into a new counter culture, using what technology is available to them to promote themselves, provide information and diary their lives.
They are defined by their passion for their geographical communities not their abilities with online media.
They fly in the face of any computer / internet stereotypes – where else would you find a WWII Veteran alongside a mum cataloguing the challenges of life with a special needs chid?
The online community permeates all demographics of society – the faceless blogger could be anyone from anywhere – united with other community users by his membership of the online community for his postcode area.
2) The online community should be valued:
The nuggets of information gleamed from the community sites to some may seem insignificant.
Who would want to read that there are roadworks in Middlesbrough when you live in Stockton?
The answer is simple, and pivotal to the success of the online communities; someone cares, so we do too.
But more than that, as a journalist myself, I would have cut off my arm in my early days in search of a splash, to have access to a ‘virtual patch’.
Each contributor acts as a key, opening the door to the community they represent. What they know, and share online, is valuable, worthwhile and should be treated as such by people like me who interact with bloggers.
What takes a seasoned writer 10 minutes to knock out can take a new blogger an evening, or even a whole day. I personally make it a point to thank the bloggers and email them regularly to encourage them and assert the worth of their contributions.
3) The online community provides a way for an unreached generation to interact with print media:
As a blogger myself, for my church, I can personally vouch for the unimaginable amount of publicity at my disposal when I upload information, post videos and podcast on our community websites.
People who favour the web over the traditional evening newspaper can view and comment on all aspects of church life. We reach people with our ‘message’ in a way we could not through the paper.
But likewise, the online community provides a new way for the print product to remain relevant and also reach a new generation.
Currently we are pioneering our work with youth bloggers.
These 16-19s, known to have little or no interaction with their local newspaper, are signing up every day to offer their opinions, review gigs, diary events and most importantly, inform us and discuss local news issues.
The Gazette to them is something they now have ownership of.
We have given them a platform and now have a growing number of young adults with an affiliation to the Gazette and a belief in its worth.