I’ve been part of online communities for almost as long as I’ve been on the Internet. My first encounter with an online community was when I around ten years old and created my very first Neopets account. Myself and other players were able to communicate with one another by virtually talking to each other, exchanging items, and playing against one another in various games.
A few years later, I started to develop my own personal taste in films, television shows, and books. I felt the need to find a place where I could share my enthusiasm for and ideas about these films, TV shows and books – and I found that place online. I frequently visited the discussion boards in a website called tv.com, where television viewers like myself were free to praise or complain about certain episodes or characters as they pleased.
Today, I encounter dozens of online communities every day on the popular blogging website Tumblr. One online community with which I am somewhat actively involved consists of viewers who watch literary based webseries. These webseries are typically updated, video-based versions of older texts such as “Pride and Prejudice”, “Anne of Green Gables”, or “Romeo and Juliet.” And because the majority of these webseries exist on YouTube and are made up of very short, easily digestible episodes, viewers who are fans of one literary-based webseries tend to be fans of many literary webseries and are, as a result, eager to offer recommendations to community newcomers.
Mutual fans of a webseries such as “Lovely Little Losers”, a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, wholeheartedly express their feelings to one another online and consequently feel as if they are talking to and becoming close friends with each other, even though they may live miles apart. Distance can, of course, limit members of an online community from developing relationships with each other that are as intimate and personal as those that exist between people who interact in person. But sometimes distance can actually bring people closer together; “Lovely Little Losers” was created in New Zealand, and as a result episodes released at 8 PM New Zealand time could be released in the middle of the night for many viewers in America, Canada, and Europe. European and American viewers were able to bond over the fact that they were trying to stay awake for obscenely long times just so they could watch the new episodes as soon as they were released.
And even if a member of an online community doesn’t necessarily form friendships with other members, sometimes it can be enough just to know that there are people who are feeling what you’re feeling and experiencing what you’re experiencing. Scrolling through Tumblr and, earlier, through those tv.com discussion boards, made me feel like my opinions about media were legitimate and valued. It gave me a sense of comfort. Though some critics may dismiss online communities as being meaningless, fake, and insignificant, I can say firsthand that being a member of various online communities has helped me to understand that my ideas are valuable and that I should never be afraid to express excitement, sadness, grief, or unbridled anticipation. And that’s something I’m truly grateful for.