Case Study

How Do People Interact in Online Communities

The behavior of people within online communities is not clearly defined, but it usually does follow some set of rules. Most communities have a set of standards that they expect their users to follow. Most communities view themselves as social atmosphere's where the real world's rules of conduct still apply. Most communities supply some sort of FAQ explaining the rules to newcomers. Dealing with people who fail to live up to those standards is dealt with differently by each for of government.

Online communities do their best to imitate their real world counterparts. In that sense much of the structure of online communities is created to mirror the outside world. In communities where the users know each other online communities actually behave much like real communities. People act in much the same way as they would talking at a party. Perhaps the biggest difference is the level of insider knowledge that exists. People use a constant stream of abbreviations and emotes. Emotes are a way of duplicating physical actions online. A user could, for example, emote a wave goodbye. Users pick up abbreviations as they interact with other, more seasoned, users.

The big change in online communities comes when the users do not know each other in the real world. Although a person may be well known within the online community, the anonymity that is gained from other users only knowing that which you wish to tell them can have an extreme effect on the way people behave. People tend to be far more adventurous and outgoing within online communities. A big reason that people enter online communities is so that they will have a chance to act in a manner in which they would never act in reality. It is not uncommon within many online communities for users to approach complete strangers in a way which they would never do in real life.

Experienced users will often seek out other people with such experience. They will often refer to dealing with "newbies" as baby sitting. While this is not always the case, most seasoned users look to interact with people they have seen online before. New users are far less selective in who they look to interact with. This may often be because they are new to the technology, or just because they hope to meet a wide circle of people.

One important trait of online discussions is that they are often chaotic. If two users are engaging in a discussion within a private channel there will be problems caused by the speed at which each user can type. Often one user may be answering a question that was issued several statements ago. Add to this dozens of other people who may be in a chat room or MUD carrying on their own conversations and the amount of discussion can become overwhelming. In order to minimize the effects of having so many people conversing at once many communities establish rules about what is and what isn't accepted behavior.

Here are some of the behaviors that are frowned upon in many communities.

  • Doing anything that might threaten the integrity of the community. This might be exploiting a bug in the system to cause it harm or doing something illegal that may cause the community to be shut down.
  • Hogging system resources
  • Abusing other members of the community
    • Spamming
    • Shouting
    • Threatening other players
    • Using obscenities
    • Impersonating other people
    • Sexual harassment
    • Not respecting other users' privacy
  • Taking revenge yourself

These rules are enforced with varying strictness and varying success. Each of the different types of government handles violations of these and other rules according to its practices. For a further discussion on the types of governments and how they are structured to handle violations please see our section on governments.