Identity and Self in Online Communities

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by: Matt Rhodes

There are many issues of identity online. For some the internet offers people the opportunity for people to represent themselves in a way that suits them. They can make themselves sound much more exciting than they really are in social networks if they so choose, talking about a band they just love and not showing certain photos that might be embarrassing from the weekend.

In online communities, it is less easy to hide behind an identity. Social networks are about ‘me’ and as such it is relatively easy to create the identity that you want to portray, showing photos, having conversations and listing things in your profile that support this. Online communities are very different, they are about ‘us’ – a shared experience, aim, theme or topic. It is not your profile that counts, but your ideas, thoughts and contributions. These are less easy to hide behind an identity that may not be completely true.

This is why the overriding principle for behaviour in online communities is to be open, honest and truthful. In doing so, we often find that people find their own voice and online identity. As an online community develops and matures, we see the members grow and develop with it, finding the way they like to act and represent themselves online.

That’s why I really enjoyed this video from Beth Dunn (via Steve Bridger) talking about her own experiences of finding her online identity. It reflects the process I think many online community members go through and is a useful insight into the development of online communities. As such it’s required reading this week at FreshNetworks.

Some more reading

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