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The explosive growth of online communities is admirable but it should be taken with a pinch of salt



COMMUNITY SERVICE Online groups are a boon and a bane

Something rather funny (or weird, depending on perspective) happened last week. Two guys had a bet to be the member of as many communities as possible on Orkut. The winner managed to subscribe to over 700 communities while his rival managed just about 500.

Rapid growth

The above example probably explains best the rapid growth of online communities. What began as obscure newsgroups, often started by the really net-savvy, is today accessible for anyone who has an email account. Orkut, Yahoogroups, Myspace... the options are endless.

Most online groups seem to have regulars to post and judging by the number of posts, it appears that people have a lot of time. There is every kind of community from I hate Himesh Reshammiya, Nose diggers to Women Who Wear Skirts and I Joined Too Many Communities!

The content leaves a lot to be desired as someone recently said: "There is nothing of value in any community." The comment is true to some extent. Most of the forums, which are well moderated, often turn out to be quite serious about their agenda. The Bangalore-based Royal Enfield enthusiasts, Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club, is one such forum. Their Yahoo group is well moderated and is used to announce the rides they undertake. Others like the Photography Club of India (might have no relation to a real world club of the same name) use their community on Orkut to organise photography contests and discuss photography. And the privacy offered by Internet communities has really been put to good use by sexual minorities. Quite a few of their forums are a space to discuss serious issues.

But as always there are black sheep. Unless you are careful you might view a community that embarrasses you. A little caution is advisable before you allow children to become part of forums.

Word of caution

Having said that, one need not get too paranoid, as you cannot become part of a community by accident, you have to subscribe to it. And a final word of caution, never reveal your email-id at forums that you do not trust, as you might get an inbox full of spam.

ANAND SANKAR

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