Importance of the Study
The exponential growth rate of the internet is without historical precedent and as such, many established organizations and interest groups were caught off guard. Assuming the advent of the information age to be a passing fad, some groups took a wait and see attitude while others claimed an early stake in the new frontier. Like the inevitable fall of a rollercoaster however, the dot com to dot bomb stock market demise of the nineties demonstrated that not all early risers had the stamina to win the race. Similar to tangible work space, the internet is not magic and rules which both govern and define success in the real world are not without correlation in the virtual. Nevertheless, people flock to the internet like old time miners in the gold rush, seeking to represent their cause with little regard to potential pitfalls and consequences. Therefore, many web based communities fail to meet the needs of their target population or the financial interest of the community sponsors. The continued growth of the internet, coupled with emerging technologies for advanced application, testify to the value of online representation and a systematic and educated approach for those who would establish an online community.
Purpose of Study
The author of this study is a competitive natural bodybuilder nationally known fitness writer. When assigned the Final Project Topic of Web Based Communities, the author decided to not only research the specified topic, but to understand how it applies to the interest for which he is best known. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine the history and types of web based communities and to determine the presence of, or need of online community representation for the natural bodybuilding community.
This study examines reasons that some web based communities fail, and suggests a plan of action to improve the likelihood of success. The study relies in part on the writer’s personal experience as a bodybuilder and webmaster, as well as related literature in the field on Web Based Communities. Additionally, the study attempts to define the purpose of an online community as well as objective measures by which to define success. Desire and nobleness of intent will not compensate for ignorance and lack of planning, therefore, the study concludes with best practices of other webmasters in creating viable, vibrant communities. Summarizing the data, the author will then consider all previous data to rationally determine the need, or lack of, an online community which represents the interest of natural bodybuilders.
Overview of the Study
Web based communities are unique among social gatherings in that the meeting location is virtual. The member simply logs in from the comfort and privacy of his or her own home and, using electronic media, communicates information, questions and opinions regarding the topic at hand with a host of unseen others. No other means of community offers the convenience, speed and anonymity of the online community. Perhaps in part due to the simplicity of online interaction, a presumption may exist on the part many developers that an online community can be quickly established and become self sustaining with little effort. Practice has shown however that a well rooted community can be compared to a socio ecosystem in which the proper habitat, individuals, and support systems are in place. The absence of any one of these elements can create a lopsided environment which will not support the system as a whole. Adding to the organic similarities, in her book “Community Building on the Web”, Amy Jo Kim describes participants of web based communities as producers, consumers and decomposers. In her analogy to an informational food chain, Kim defines producers as those who contribute relevant content. Non relevant data can quickly exploit system resources and render a community devoid of purpose or meaning. Therefore she states, “Systems need to be in place, which can turn the members into producers of content. The community should try and tap into this as it moves away from the members being purely consumers. “(Kim, Amy J. Community Building on the Web. Peachpit Press, 2000). A review of this book will further demonstrate that the social dynamics of an online community will closely mirror those of its offline counterpart. The Platonistic concept of “as above, so below” can be construed in the information age to read, “as is the real, so is the virtual”. Though the virtual community does lend itself to exceptions, human nature tends to act as a leveling agent bringing both environments into harmony, or disharmony as the case may be. Communities on both ends of this spectrum exist to develop and build relationships in which information and meaningful dialogue is exchanged. In the exchange of ideas within a social group, the medium of exchange is not as important as the message. Therefore, when considering an online community, the developer would do well to consider social dynamics in the off line world.
The advantage of a web based community over a traditional community is in the absence of boundaries created by time and distance. In the virtual community, the rules which govern the offline world can be bent, or simply do not apply. While the negation of boundaries may facilitate social exchange, the difficulty of managing such exchanges is compounded. The near seamless merging of social intercourse with anonymity often exposes the best, and worst of behavior. Returning therefore to the real world similarities, it is important that rules of etiquette which govern behavior, as well as a means of enforcement should be established. In consideration of the stated purpose and objectives of the online community, rules which govern behavior are more likely to be subjective than universal. Therefore, purpose is the underlying motivation by which all activities of the community are to be evaluated.
Software and online resources have made the creation of web based communities a thing or relative ease. As a result, virtually every interest, need or concern can be found represented in a form of online community. As the literature will show however, maintenance of the community may require expenditures which exceed the resources of the developer.
The questions to be answered from this study are:
· What consideration should be given prior to creating a web based community?
· Why do many online communities fail?
· How to define the purpose and goal of a community?
· How to define success of a community?
· Is there a need for additional community representation for the interest of natural bodybuilders?
Rationale of the Study
The rationale of this study involves a hypothesis which addresses the questions in the above paragraph. The hypothesis suggest that failures in online communities can be attributed to a lack of planning and basic understanding of communities on the part of the developer and that attention to the same may help to assure the success and longevity of the community. The study will further address availability, or additional need of web based community resources in the interest of natural bodybuilding.
Scope of Study
The content of this paper is influenced to a degree by the writer’s personal experience with online communities and experience as a webmaster, bodybuilder and author. Limitations of the study include the lack of available statistics indicating the percentage of the U.S. population who consider themselves to be bodybuilders, or the percentage of bodybuilders who join online communities. The writer therefore will rely on statistics from his own web site, as well as published statistics from listed online bodybuilding communities. Another limitation is that the writer’s personal knowledge and interest may subconsciously influence the direction of research as well as the summary of the data.
The terms “web based community”, “virtual community” and “online community” have been used synonymously throughout this paper to describe the social intercourse that occurs between individuals in an online environment. Sociologist Barry Wellman (2001) more formally describes "community" as "networks of interpersonal ties that provide sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging and social identity," Wellman further goes on to define "digital community" as "a web of relationships that is enabled, enhanced, or extended by digital tools."
This study therefore, will explore the various types of online communities and the interrelated functionalities.