Online Communities


There is “life” beneath the surface. Promotional postcard for Lux Central (detail), artwork by Sammy. Similarly, the affordances of technology underlie our in-person interactions.

In his 2010 book, Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online, Robert V. Kozinets  addressed the importance of clearly defining culture and community as a starting place when exploring the ways in which they are mediated by and exist in online venues. Kozinets notes that it was acknowledged by many in even the early days of the internet that elements of community-building were taking root in bulletin boards, chat rooms, and listservs. Still, anonymity was not uncommon, considering that “it was assumed that the members of online groups almost never physically met” (Kozinets, 7). Under the new paradigm of Facebook and other mainstream online communities, anonymity is less in fashion. Yet even this is contested, take for example Google’s initial move to prohibit pseudonyms [1] in its Google+ platform, only to reverse course [2] the following year; and its efforts in 2012 to nudge YouTube users towards adopting real identities. In any case, people are connecting online and through online channels and establishing identity is important, particularly when online activity overlaps with real-world activity.

In the early days of online communities, real world meetups may not have been an option but what new challenges arise when in-person meetups do become an option, if not inevitable? How do our online channels and venues afford us the opportunity to interact remotely when it is our lifeline but to also interact remotely when it is a complement to our real-life interactions? The channel that I have chosen to explore this topic is Foursquare for the way it affords users to interact with people they know at different levels as well as members of a community of interest; again, at different levels. In essence Foursquare allows users the platform to collect against, connect to and contribute with other members in the community.

Who hasn’t noticed that something is going on underground and in the clouds overhead, filling the interstices of our lived experience. With much of our day-to-day interactions mediated through technology, even the most intimate, in-person interactions taking place in our public spaces are carried along a stream of information technology. For example, I meet a colleague at a coffeehouse — a meetup arranged and facilitated via email, mobile phones, and — in the hours preceding — text messages. We individually check in to the venue using Foursquare, we access our Google drive to conduct our business, and we consult our synchronized calendars to coordinate a follow up meeting. Afterwards, we may report on the meeting via Twitter, share it via Facebook, or archive it on a blog.

More of our lived experience is taking place in the in-between spaces, not as a mediator but as a destination; however, much of what used to be inseparable from the traditional desktop computer has now been liberated through mobile devices. We are increasingly mediated through online channels and yet more mobile. Our technology is in competition with the real world only insofar as it does not accommodate it. Yet, with the explosive trend of mobile devices and the apps they run, accommodations and affordances continue to grow.

“More than half of Americans now use social networking sites to tell their stories, to build their networks and to share in the social media revolution that’s occurred. People are  using these technologies to do something profoundly human. They’re connecting with other people and sharing their stories. So they’re not hooked on their gadgets; they’re hooked on each other.”

Lee Rainie
Networked: The New Social Operating System
(promotional video)


[1] Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online
[2] Pew Internet & American Life Project
[3] Google Confirms: Non-Real Name Google Profiles Risk Suspension (I.E., Google Still Doesn’t Get Social)
[4] Google+ is Now Allowing Nicknames, Pseudonyms & More
[5] No Pseudonyms Allowed: Is Google Plus’s Real Name Policy a Good Idea?

This is page 1 of 9 in a Foursquare Coffeehouse Mini-Ethnography | Click here for page 2: Collect and Connect

About Seth Goodman

Denizen of the southwest, college employee, ASU graduate student, unofficial student of Edu Tech; focused on family...tentatively enthralled by everything else.
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