Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lessons Learned from Online Communities

The world is increasingly becoming smaller and more online-based. It's so much easier these days to keep in touch with family and friends, to make new online friends, and to meet people with similar interests and goals. Since I started competing five years ago, I've found myself turning toward online communities more and more, because initially, I didn't have the in-person support that I needed. Over the years, I've made some great friends through forums, and have also met some of my least favorite people online.

One on of the forums I belong to, the question was posted, "What have you learned from [insert forum name]"? Interesting question ... one I've been thinking about all day. As I tried to narrow down things I've learned from that particular forum, I started thinking about all the other online places I frequent, and what I've learned from those sites as well. Some things are positive, some things are negative. Let's start with the positive things first ...

Positive things I've learned from forums and online communities
  • There are other people like me. This may seem sort of obvious, but it's refreshing to know that there are others out there facing similar issues, and having similar feelings and thoughts. When I first started competing, only one other friend actually understood what I was going through. When I joined my first forum, suddenly, I had a network of thousands of others who understood me and were dealing with the same things.
  • It's ok to disagree about an issue; people won't stop liking me. At first, I was afraid to disagree with someone because I was worried about what people would think of me. Ok, this one is still more of a work in progress, as I'm still rather reluctant to disagree, but I'm working on it! Jerry has helped me overcome this hurdle, as he has no problems disagreeing with anyone! And I've learned that it's inevitable that some people won't like me, and that's ok too.
  • More people pay attention to my words than I originally thought. I can't tell you how many times I've been surprised when someone asks me a question or makes a comment regarding something I wrote online. I had no idea people actually read what I write! (I used to be a Technical Writer ... you know, the person who wrote the manual you immediately throw away after purchasing software. Hence, the very justified belief that no one reads what I write.)
  • There are some really good people in this world. People whom I've never met face-to-face have provided some of the most needed support for me in tough times. And I've made some really good friends online, some of whom I've had the opportunity to meet in person. I love going to shows and meeting my online friends face-to-face! Heck, without one forum, Jerry and I never would've met! (See also: It's a Love Story)
Moving on to the negative (or the more euphemistic "not-so-positive") things I've learned from forums and online communities.
  • There are always going to be haters. You know - that one person who finds every opportunity to be a pain in the butt, a know-it-all, a basher, or your loudest critic. I'm still working on building up a thicker skin and not taking every comment to heart. There are certain boards I avoid either because of their reputation for unnecessary bashing, because of a negative experience I had, or because of one or more persons who always seems to turn something positive and fun into an opportunity for a lecture, sarcasm, or cruel comments.
  • People lie. Yeah, this one may be very obvious, but for this [sometimes naive] midwestern girl, it never ceases to surprise me. Because I make it a point to never lie (got caught trying to lie when I was young, and decided it wasn't worth it, plus I sucked at it), I have a hard time understanding why people feel the need to lie. Srsly, what's the point?? Being a faceless entity behind a lethal keyboard gives people a false sense of confidence, and the opportunity to be whomever they've always wanted to be. If I believed everything I've been told online, I'd be friends with very famous, very beautiful people. All the men would be 6'1", 230 lbs ripped at 3% bf, and all the women would always remain within 5 lbs of their contest weight. Oh yeah, and everyone would be competing natural.
  • It's easier for an online community to suddenly take on a "gang" mentality than it is in person. I've seen this happen on so many different forums and threads. Just one negative comment leads to a whole bunch of others jumping on the bashing bandwagon. Dissenters remain quiet, except for a couple brave souls who either get ignored or in turn bashed for trying to offer support.
All in all, the things I've learned have helped make me a better person, and have opened doors that would've otherwise been closed, or unknown. I now have so many great connections in the fitness community, I'm up-to-date on my former classmates' lives, I have an easy time keeping in touch with my family, and I've made some wonderful friends! There will always be negatives that go hand-in-hand with positives, so it's important to recognize them, and not let them affect you too much (again, something I'm still working on). Well, it's time to go surf some boards and see what's going on in the online world!


  1. I like this post...another one that really makes me stop in my tracks and think....I've met some really great, supportive people online...and I've seen the nastiness too, but thankfully and now...and the forums and blogs I frequent seem to the be refreshingly positive.

  2. Thanks for a great blog. I've recently decided to do weight training and found these online communities of people having what I want. Health!!! I'm so glad I found a place where people do not apologize for wanting to be healthy and being disciplined to meet their goals.

    Thanks again. I enjoy your blog.