This project was done for the Evolution and Trends of Digital Media course at the University of Washington, during the Winter Quarter of 2009. The course was taught by Kathy Gill and students were instructed to choose an industry, issue, or technology related to digital communication, and examine the past and present of these industries to help form an analysis of what the future holds for these industries.

This research is aimed at determining the future of online communities. With the rise of social network sites (SNS) there has become a distinct difference between websites set up for users to connect with one another based on common interests, and social sites that allow for a more personal network. This first paper will discuss the past of both topical based communities (referred to as “forums” in this project) and social networking sites, and how the members of these communities connected before the rise of such sites. The second paper will examine the present state of these communities and how there seems to be a blending of public discussion websites and SNS’, as well as a bridging of both offline and online communities. The final paper will examine where online communities are headed based on the theories and trends discussed in the first two papers. This project is being conducted to determine the future of online communities, and will draw on sources relevant to forums and SNS’, in particular one such community that has incorporated both. This research will answer an important question: Will internet forums become obsolete or evolve? The future of internet forums quite possibly will involve incorporating many features of social media, which opens the discussion of whether or not forums will exist as being separate from social media. Either way, it is obvious that forums will remain a fixture of online communities in the future; it just needs to be determined in what form this will be in.

The Past of Online Communities
The Present and Future of Online Communities
Presentation
Annotated Bibliography

Chris Caravello currently is a graduate student at the University of Washington, and is on track to complete his degree in Winter ’09. He began his career as a designer during his time at Florida State University, where he recieved his bachelors degree in graphic design. While living in Tallahassee, he began doing freelance design for musicians who lived in the area. Upon graduating from FSU in 2005, he moved to Los Angeles and took a job as a media designer for the Alsa Corporation. In the Fall of 2007 he moved to Seattle to enter the Masters program. In May 2008 he and his cousin, along with Alex Batess and Johnathan Lucas founded the Tyronehood network, which has grown from an online community set up for fans of the New Orleans music scene to a global social network featuring an online television site and a forum for its members to discuss music, travel, and lifestyles.

Upon finishing his Masters degree, Chris plans on moving back to the Gulf Coast to work as a designer and be closer to his young daughter. He is currently working on a project for the New Orleans based House of Shock.

Thesis :

One of the many qualities that make up human behavior is our desire to communicate and work with others.  In this digital age, it has become common for those lacking social skills to accomplish these desires to turn to online message board communities to interact with others.  However, not all of these message boards are set up as havens for the socially inept.  Could the true power and potential of community lie within social networks geared towards people with both offline and online social skills?

Statement:

Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them.
— Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

I intend to look at a specific on line community and show how its members have used their various talents to create a vast and powerful network, despite at first only having their message board as means to communicate with one another.  As time went on and it became apparent which members possessed adequate social skills, this translated into projects and meet ups facilitated by offline interaction.  The ones who neither had this quality or simply weren’t interested in that type of social interaction eventually were pruned from the ranks.  This left a fellowship of like minded individuals who would not let the constraints of a computer screen hinder goals that in the past would only be possible with face to face interaction.  This is the digital age’s e-firm.  There are no physical offices, which is perfect when work needs to be done in Seattle one day, and in Houston or Barcelona the next.

This project will show the way humans need for community are being met with today’s technology, and the pros and cons of accomplishing them using this technology. Finally, it will show the boons of creating a community that makes the best of both the on and offline world.  Social networking does not have to be strictly digital, it is the hybrid version that will accomplish the most in today’s age.