An online community is a group of people who communicate with one another over the Internet, usually with a common interest. Before the advent of the Internet, there was no such thing as a virtual community. Today, vast online communities inhabit the World Wide Web in chat rooms and game rooms across the globe.
The origins of online communities lie somewhere in the beginnings of personal computer use. Small groups of people in colleges, universities, and the military communicated online via message boards and user nets. Common interests brought these pioneers together in the first virtual communities. As the length of the workday grew, and the business world began operating on a 24-hour basis, computer users desired an ability to socialize anywhere, at any hour of the day. Many joined an online community to chat with others who kept nontraditional hours or lived in distant time zones.
With the introduction of more sophisticated user interfaces that allowed information and images to be shared universally, real-time communication became possible. The world of the online community embraced any advances in information technology that enabled people to communicate with others online and form real relationships. Soon, online gaming sites began incorporating real-time chat functions and instant messaging into the gaming action. In some online games, communication between players is the primary purpose and function of the game. Thus was born another type of online community, social gaming.
The desire of humans to interact with other humans in virtual worlds prompted game designers to introduce simple animated characters, known as avatars, or virtual bodies. Each avatar is a unique animated being that is controlled by an individual live participant. Avatars live in a virtual world inhabited by other avatars. As graphics and connectivity have improved, gamers are able to script the avatar’s abilities and appearances to be convincingly realistic. Smooth 3D animations and advanced scripting techniques allow gamers to make avatars do practically anything they wish.
In one popular online game called Second Life ®, millions of participants lead a virtual life with spouses, homes, pets, jobs, cars, shopping, and all the pranks and pitfalls of reality. Some gamers become so obsessed with their online community they begin to eschew real life in favor of a virtual life. But, most people simply enjoy interacting online with others from around the world. No matter what form an online community takes, in the end it is all about people reaching out and communicating.