Online Communities Build Real-Life Communities

Hello everyone. My name is Ryan, and I am a…message board/forum addict 🙂 Since I started getting involved in online communities in high school back around 1998, I’ve loved everything about them.

My introduction to online communities came from an unexpected group of people, which were hippies. When my brother left for college in 1995, during winter break when he came home he introduced me to Phish, The Grateful Dead, as well as the local Ohio “jamband” scene. Bands of this nature generally encourage the taping of their concerts, and even in the dial-up era, tape (and CD-R) traders were already making their way online to connect with people and trade concert bootlegs. I originally joined an email list for a local band called Ekoostik Hookah. There was no website or message board, but a central email list that would blast out messages to everyone subscribed to it. I became friendly with people, and traded bootlegs of concerts with them.

On May 7, 2000, I had my first experience of meeting a group of people from the internet. A group of us from this email list were getting together at someone’s house for a picnic prior to a concert that evening we were all attending in downtown Cleveland. This was pre-GPS, and before I had a cell phone. I had directions to a complete stranger’s house, and when I found the mailbox for the place, there was no house in front of it. I had a phone number for this girl, so I knocked on a neighbor’s door and asked if I could use their phone. In a pre-Facebook/ dating site world, when I explained to them that I was meeting a group of complete strangers that I had talked to on the internet, they looked at me like I was absolutely insane. I call the girl, and she tells me to look out the window. She was on the other side of the street waving at me. Her mailbox was on the opposite side of the street as her house, which I had never seen before. This was a ridiculously embarrassing moment, but I was among fellow music geeks, so we laughed it off, and I bonded strongly with this group of “strangers” that I had been talking to online for months. My first real community started on the internet was born.

Eventually, I started looking for other ways to trade concert bootlegs with people, and in 2001, I stumbled upon website called Phishhook. This site was built where everyone could have a personal page containing their concert collection, easily searchable, along with a message board, where people could start topics and have discussions online. Originally intimidated by the message board. I would lurk, read people’s funny conversations, but was not brave enough to join in any of the threads, let alone start my own.

At some point I got brave enough to join in the conversation (I still remember that my first post was asking if anyone knew where I could find an MP3 for the theme song from The Adventures of Pete and Pete), and joined an internet community that 12 years, and over 52,000 posts later, I still consider a second home. Unless I’m on a vacation with absolutely no internet access, not a single day goes by that I am not visiting this message board multiple times a day. I have true friendships with hundreds of people I’ve never met, and probably over a hundred at this point that I actually have met in real life.

Around 2002, I discovered that a member of this online community lived a few blocks away from me when I was at college at IU Bloomington. We started hanging out and going to shows together. In 2003, when Phish had gotten back together from their first “hiatus,” a girl from the board was ambitious enough to setup a meetup in Cincinnati at the Montgomery Inn restaurant for lunch before that night’s Phish concert. I had driven from IU with one of my roommates, and when we walked in to the restaurant, the girl who organized the event was there with blank name tags and a sharpie. I wrote my screen name on a name tag, slapped it on my chest, and walked upstairs to find myself surrounded by almost 50 people that I had never actually met, but felt like I already knew. It was easy to talk to them, and great to finally put some faces (and real names) with screen names. At this point, I would say another true real-life community had been created for me that originated online.

After college, in 2004, I finally found a job, and moved to Ann Arbor Michigan. The first thing I did when the move was official was post about it on Phishhook to see if anyone lived in the area. It turns out the owner of the site and his girlfriend (now wife, who met via the website) lived in the area, along with the girl who planned the 2003 meetup in Cincinnati. So, all of a sudden, moving to a town where I knew no one became I place where I had good friends. I loved hanging out with that crew while I lived there.

In 2005, I was offered a job in Indianapolis, and just like with Ann Arbor, the first thing I did was post online about it to find out who lived in the area. A guy around my age, who hosted trivia nights at a local bar contacted me, as well as a guy around my parents age who lived in the area. 8 years later, I go to quite a few concerts with the guy my parents age, and going to trivia every Saturday that the other guy hosts is a ritual among my friends. On top of that, the trivia host actually set me up with my girlfriend in January.

Blogs are a bit more one-sided than message boards. I really enjoy writing reviews and pieces for Pure Geekery, but notice the comments section is usually pretty empty on most articles. I have started making an effort to comment on most articles, and I encourage you all to do the same. Conversation leads to community, and there is no one I’d rather build a community with than my fellow geeks! Once a community is established through the blog, we can work on turning it into a real-life community for readers local to the area. It’s worked for me numerous times in the past, and I hope that it can again here! So leave a message in the comments section of this, or any other article, and lets start ourselves a community 🙂

Editor’s Note: Nicole here! I can set up an online community here on Pure Geekery (I think) fairly easily if this is something you all are interested in. You just have to let me know.

4 Responses to “Online Communities Build Real-Life Communities”
  1. Sheryl says:
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