The internet is an amazing medium to use for the discussion of ideas. One particularly interesting type of environment you will find online is community message boards. There are communities online for everything you can possibly imagine. Whether it’s gardening, death metal, fashion, or movies… the internet most likely has a large community of online users discussing it on a message board.
When participating in these online communities, sometimes you stumble upon one where the community is like a culture within itself. The members are usually pretty diverse. They are from all over the world, have different viewpoints, probably dress differently, eat differently, and may listen to different kinds of music. The thing that brings them together, though, is a place online where their ideas can come together to agree or disagree.
If you decide to participate in one of these online forums (I highly recommend you do, it’s a great way to kill time and you learn A LOT) it’s important to follow some rules before jumping into their discussions. Different forums have different rules, but most of these are universal, and will get you accepted into the majority of online communities:
1. Read their FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). Any popular and respectable online message board should have a FAQ section. Whether it’s about using the message board or the rules of the community in general (what to post, what not to post, etc.) it’s always a good idea to read it. In fact, it’s pretty much mandatory. About 95% of the questions new users to these forums ask are explained in the FAQ. If you ask a question that is already answered in the FAQ, you will get “flamed” (made fun of) and lose respect right from the start. Read the FAQ and be informed.
2. Lurk. The term “lurking” means don’t actually register an account, but read some of the forum threads (discussions) before joining the message board. Don’t participate, just read and get to know the community you want to join. You’ll learn a lot by observation. That way, before you register and join in on the discussion, you’ll know how the community works, what people respond to, what deems a “stupid post” and you’ll learn some of the forum’s lingo. If the forum requires you to register in order to read the forums, then register but don’t create any posts just yet.
3. Don’t create new posts right away. When you first join a community, start by replying to already existing discussions. The reason for this is that a lot of new users on message boards tend to create new discussion topics that have already been discussed, are currently being discussed, or are just lame. Unless you have a completely original idea and know how to start a discussion about the topic, don’t bother starting any discussions until after you’ve done some participation yourself.
4. Be open-minded. Depending on which forums you’ve visit, you’ll encounter a lot of interesting and scary stuff. The internet encompasses A LOT of ideas. That means you may encounter topics that might make you uncomfortable. Don’t be surprised if someone starts a controversial topic and has an opinion that deeply offends you. They will probably defend it and insult you at the same time. Don’t be surprised by this. It’s how some of these communities work. Your ideas will be challenged, you will be forced to think for yourself and most likely defend yourself. This is not TV or daycare, this is the internet. Anything goes. You will learn to love it. We certainly do.
5. There are some scary people on the internet. You will meet some really cool people, and some really creepy people. Be respectful, but be careful. Don’t trust anyone on the internet unless you know them personally. There are exceptions to this rule, but use common sense and think before giving up your personal information to people you’ve never met in real life.
6. Post your ideas in the right forums. Most online message boards have different sections for different topics. Get to know what belongs in each one so you can visit them according to your interests as well as present your ideas to the right audiences. Not only does it keep things organized and less cluttered, the people who respond to your topics will most likely be the most knowledgeable on that topic.
7. No complaining about the community. If you don’t like the people on a particular message board, then don’t post there. Instead of creating a discussion telling them how much you don’t like them, just leave them and move onto to another board. They most likely don’t care and will just criticize you. So save everyone some time and just move on. It’s not a big deal, everyone has different tastes.
8. It’s all in good fun. The internet is not always to be taken seriously. There is a popular phrase around some online forums that the “internet is serious business!”, which is usually a sarcastic way of saying “Dude, calm down… it’s just the internet!” Some online communities are created so that people can go online and just talk to random strangers, laugh, and have a good time. It’s not meant to teach you anything in particular, force you to think a certain way, or to insult you (although this does happen). These boards exist because sometimes after a hard day’s work you may want to come home and talk to random people online about how bad the traffic was today, complain about your dog peeing on your rug, or why you think Cheerios is the greatest food ever. Just sit back, play some music, grab a drink, and join in on the discussion!
Online communities are great. I’ve been browsing them for years and have learned a ton as well as laughed out loud many times. They will keep you entertained for hours and are just as good (if not, better) than watching a movie or reading a book. Don’t be afraid to join in the discussion and have a good time, but remember to follow these guidelines and remember the golden rule: “THINK before you post”.