I was just lamenting to my wife last night that with the ability to so carefully choose our media landscape and our physical and electronic communities that I feel like my online experience is stagnant. It's easy to hide yourself in a world of what you like. You can watch Star Wars movies, tv shows, listen to Star Wars podcasts, and engage in Star Wars friendly web communities. And that's -- all of it -- wonderful if that's what you want to do. But -- sometimes, not all of the time, but sometimes -- I like to be challenged or exposed to a range of view points.
For me that means I'd appreciate having experiences -- online, via the media -- that aren't simply entertainment. My assignment this week in library school is to discuss online communities and how they are moderated though. And while it seems tangential to my ennui, I think there are some ways in which carefully moderated online communities can both burst the insular post-modern existentialist consumer entertainment bubble and create safe spaces for challenging view points.
As Scott Rosenberg argues in his article Online comments need moderation, not “real names", these problems are typical of under-moderated threads. They don't result in real community. Even John Grohol in his article Anonymity and Online Community: Identity Matters, which as its title suggests implies that anonymity is part of what allows such horrifying comments, also argues that moderation and establishing a relationship with your members is key to developing an actual community -- a space where we could imagine dissenting opinions being stated tactfully.
If you're about to launch an online presence in the hopes of attracting a community. Don't just turn on the message boards and the let the comments fly. Be ready to actually talk to your commenters and moderate your boards. Anonymity can breed a culture of whispers and deceit, but it doesn't need to. If you engage your anonymous users and your lurkers (people who are members of the community but choose not to post) in actual conversation, you can keep things civil and develop a fulfilling community that introduces Star Wars fans to The West Wing or the Jim Lehrer News Hour.