Today Facebook is one of the internet’s biggest online communities catering to a wide range of people who want to keep touch with each other through online. Mark Zuckerberg, the owner had given an insightful commentary on how Facebook had started off. He specifically mentioned that the site Facebook.com was not given the key to the castle; it basically was lucky and was at the right place at the right time. At that time most of the social networking was focused more on a particular genre or niche and was adopted by people who were in there twenties that a major part of the online crowd was left out, in particular the college students and the high school crowd. So the enormous segment of the young crowd was captured by Facebook. The site was also designed and maintained by college students for other college students which are one major success factor. If the site was maintained for a multinational company or was answerable to other older people the site would have been completely different because older people tend not to understand the trends and would have been lost. Facebook was unique because it provided people with privacy; the fact that the Facebook users could make their profiles for their friends and their “audience” and other people were not allowed to view their complete profile was a big plus to gain credibility for Facebook. Also since Facebook was developed by a Harvard college student it was seen as a guaranteed success because other students felt the sense of following towards the Harvard students as they were considered to be the “tastemakers” of the college crowd being both intelligent and fun loving. This cannot be denied and maybe did play a significant role in the development and success of the site. Last but not the least, an important factor was the design and features of the site, the simple navigation which was clutter free and organized according to classes and universities helped bond many friends together in a format which was fun and informative. The speed and simplicity was unmatched by other social community websites.
It could be gleaned however that Facebook was not the first on this phenomenon. Maybe it was a trendsetter for other youth-oriented online communities, but online communities had been gaining popularity since the dawning of the new century. With advances in technologies, companies and organizations realized the importance of getting a target market of potential customers and employees based online. Some of the better known social computing initiatives include social networks like Orkut, MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, and LinkedIn, social book marking services like del.icio.us; and multiple initiatives from Google and blogging (Fox News Presenter). According to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, 2006), Almost 61% of 12-to-18-year-old have at least one personal profile on a social networking/ online community site. When Facebook was created a few years back people could only register if they were part of a US university such that it was used by many college students to keep track of events and their friends. It was an easy and fun, free way to be in an online community and they could choose to keep their privacy.
“The concept of virtual community, as any group of people who share a common bond, yet who are not dependent on physical interaction and a common geographic location is not new” (McDonough, 1997). One of the biggest things gathered around by research of many webmaster and researchers is that users will interact in an environment where they feel that what they are discussing will be considered important. So to facilitate a successful on an online community one needs to be sure of the atmosphere by reading around first before stating to interact with fellow members. Most of the communities online also known as forums sometimes have FAQS (Frequently asked Questions) section for the new members to have a look and feel what the whole community are all about. They also have specific rules to follow for each community.
The commercialization has also affected the need for online secure and private places where employees can interact in a better and faster medium than email or phone. “As commercial organizations face up to modern commercial pressures and react with measures such as downsizing and outsourcing,”(Hildreth,2004, vii) they have realized the need for creating communities which are virtual and need to communicate with each other over large distances and different time zones. The reasons for an online community for large business organizations is that they can get expert advice from people who specialize in their fields and are appointed as online experts to help their sub employees get maximum performance and their questions answered in faster way which will directly help in their productivity. There can be announcements which can be posted and read by everyone who is intended to read which is way better than email since they can discuss and many people can read without numerous numbers of emails back and forth if they have any doubts. It is a brilliant platform for them to discuss their opinions and can be flowed up by people who have the same perspective or even if they are against a certain idea.
In a article by Katerina Nicolopoulou “How to Address Group Dynamics in Virtual Worlds”, she mentions how there should be multi-disciplinary standards in online group practices so as to not lose the essence of creating a virtual world which signifies each person’s personal interest in the subject as well as for them to come to a singular platform to discuss learn and share ideas. She also goes on to mention togetherness in an online community and how it is important to maintain a stable platform for all individuals. The stages of a particular community flourishing are –Forming: where the community is being built on the basics the leadership pattern and the organizational structure is built on this stage; Storming: where there is clearing of disputes and managing the platform of communication introducing new rules and management and the general idea of the whole community; Norming : where there is approvals for the type of behaviors allowed and set standards for the online discussion and lastly, Performing: where after the last stages of this production have been successful, they go on to being completely successful and go to a maturity stage and go to reach the stage to perform in a manner which they desire and mutually agree on.
Online communities have also been used for new product development cycles which will help them get a more creative and user friendly product in a very easy and concise manner which satisfies both the end user and the manufacturer. (Füller, 2006). Online communities have been tested again and again and proven to be an endless source of knowledge, entertainment and fun. Making a online community targeted at a subset of people is the best way to get the maximum out of each user, most of the sites which aim at general audience have already established themselves and they have many loyal followers.
Füller, Johann et al. (2006). Community based innovation: How to Integrate Members of Virtual Communities into New Product Development. Electronic Commerce Research 6, no. 1 (January 1): 57-73. Retrieved 7 October 2008 http://www.proquest.com
McDonough, M. (1997), “Frequently Asked Questions: Virtual Communities”, Internal Paper Prepared for Virtual Community Hosts at the Thomson Virtual Communities Laboratory
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (2006). Teen Internet Safety Study. Retrieved 7 October 2008 from http://www.netsmartz.org/safety/statistics.htm
Nicolopoulou, Katerina et. al. (2006). How to Address Group Dynamics in Virtual Worlds. AI ; Society 20, no. 3 (June 1): 351-371. Retrieved 7 October 2008 from http://www.proquest.com
Paul M, Hildreth (2004). Going Virtual: Distributed Communities of Practice, United Kingdom.