Finding -- and Sticking With -- an Online Community

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For the first time in ages, I was having a wee look at my Flickr account last night. I’m not sure what surprised me more; the fact that I haven’t uploaded any photos since last July, or the fact that even though I haven’t uploaded any photos since last July, I’ve still had about 60,000 views!

 There was a time, shortly after I took up photography, when I was never off Flickr. I loved it – joining in groups and discussions, doing basic editing on Picnik, and browsing those millions and millions of beautiful pictures. I got slightly obsessed about checking my stats every day, seeing how many people had looked at my photos, how many comments or favourites I’d had, and where people had been referred from.

 But then, without making any kind of effort, my time on there just sort of fizzled out. I think it was a combination of things. I was starting to write more, so I had less time to spend playing around with photos – there are only so many hours in the day, after all.  I also think that after a year of taking photos I was more confident with my camera and didn’t really need the validation of someone favouriting my pictures. And as I took more and more photos of my young son, I didn’t really feel comfortable putting too many of them up on a public site for the world to see (I still occasionally put some up on my blog, but it’s quite rare, and I usually try and choose ones where his face is not the focus).

Anyway, it occurred to me that it has always been the way I operate online - I throw myself wholeheartedly into a community or an activity and get as much out of it as I can, and then I change direction and I move onto something else.

business woman
Businesswoman image by ra2 studio via shutterstock.com

About fifteen years ago, when email was really just starting to become popular – when we were all setting up Hotmail accounts with usernames like SparklyCrystal83 and LittleMissSunshine2000 - there was a bit of a craze among my friends at high school for emailing around ridiculously long quizzes where you had to your list your favourite colour, favourite band and the like. I loved those quizzes. I’d spend hours doing them. For whatever reason, it seemed crucially important to know what my friends’ star signs were, whether they preferred jam or peanut butter; whether they were dog people or cat people, and who their favourite teacher was. I loved the quizzes so much that I decided to write my own one. It was epic. It took me almost an entire Saturday, and consisted of over 2000 questions. Salt or Pepper? N'Sync or the Backstreet Boys? White chocolate pretzels or milk chocolate pretzels?

And then, just as I was finishing the bugger, and about to send it around my classmates, my stupid effing heap-of-crap computer crashed and I lost the whole lot. I could have wept. In fact, I think I did weep. And then I turned off the computer and never sent another one of those pointless quizzes again.

Fast-forward ten years from then, and I’d just got engaged. ‘Hmmm,’ said I, turning on my computer at work one day. ‘I wonder if there’s an online community to help people plan their weddings.’ Well of course there was. There were several, and the rivalry was FIERCE! I pitched my tent in the least squee of the bride-to-be camps, took a deep breath, and typed a short introduction.

Thank goodness we only had a short engagement (sparkly ring in February, wedding in September), otherwise the monster that is IndieBride may have swallowed me for good. Apparently, since I was on there, the lack of forum moderation has seen the site descend into a pit of trolling, snarking and outstanding bitchery, but at the time it was a useful resource. There were people who had spent years – literally years – of their life discussing their wedding plans with internet strangers, getting feedback on everything from the colour of their invites, to their dress, to their table centrepieces. That obsessive element of it was overwhelming, and there was never any danger of me getting so caught up myself… but at the same time I was the first of my ‘real-life’ friends to get married, so it was nice to have an online place where I could bounce around some ideas without worrying about being a bore. I found a group of normal-ish folk to hang out with, and we all chatted about our wedding plans, and then we all got married, and we popped back once to share our wedding stories and a couple of pictures… then we were done. I’ve never logged on again since.   

Having graduated from IndieBride I moved onto another online community, which bills itself as ‘A Community of Outspoken Women’. And again, it was a brilliant resource - the women on there, some of whom I know in real life, most of whom I don’t – are, for the most part, funny, smart and kind. They were a huge source of support for me during pregnancy, birth and the early days of parenting, especially as the members self-organised into ‘cohorts’ of mothers with children the same age. I used to sit, feeding my newborn son at 3am, scrolling through the discussions on my little iPod, finding great reassurance from the fact that most of them were having as terrible a time as I was.

But again, after a while, it felt like I’d outgrown the place. The members that I really cared about became my friends on Facebook, and the ones that I hadn’t connected with in the same way faded into insignificance. I don’t think I’ve posted on there in eight or nine months. I do think about popping back in occasionally, and may well find reason to do so sometime, but for now it’s definitely not a priority.

It seems like my online attention span is fairly limited. Some of that is due to the limited number of hours in the day. While it would be nice to stay connected with people on every network, and maintain every online relationship, there really just isn’t time. Some of it is also due to changing interests. It’d be a bit odd to still be hanging around on a wedding site nearly five years after getting married.

Right now I am really enjoying blogging, and for the most part have found the blogging community to be a friendly and welcoming one. For once I seem to be managing to keep my head down and avoiding the fiery internal politics of it all... long may that continue. More importantly, it combines every interest – I can post photos, I can write, I can chat to others with similar interests, and occasionally I can even do a daft post that satisfies the thirteen year old me with her very long email questionnaires.

I’m hoping that – at last – I’ve found a corner of the web where I’m going to stay for a while.

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