Case Study

What Kind of People Are in Online Communities

While there is no single description for members of online communities, there are definite patterns that emerge in each of the communities. Perhaps the most striking trend is that of gender. Most communities are heavily dominated by males. Pavel Curtis estimates that 95% of LambdaMOO users are male. A majority of participants in online communities are college students from the United States. However, there are participants from all over the world. LambdaMOO has received logins from Canada, Ireland, England, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Russia, Iraq, Finland, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Israel, Australia, and Sweden. Age can range from anywhere from people in their teens to people in their fiftees.

Many participants have, at some point in their life, had an interest in fantasy or science-fiction. People's online names are littered with references to the world of science fiction. And most participants have an active imagination. People create intricate persona for themselves and vivid descriptions of themselves. The online world is most certainly a means of expression for people who might otherwise be too shy to do so.

The question arises of how do people change once they have entered their online character. For many people their online character gives them extraordinary freedom. The anonymity of the computer allows them to do and say things that they might never have been allowed to do previously. People become far more adventurous and open to meeting new people. It allows people a chance to be more forward and to approach other users in a way which might never have been possible for them in the real world.

This anonymity and freedom to be more aggressive in meeting people can be abused however. Many people, once they go online, use their new characters as a way of harassing other users. They do actions that they might not previously have done because those actions, if done in the real world, would probably land them in jail. These are the people that force many online communities to incorporate some sort of government structure. Their behavior, if left unchecked, may run amuck. These are not necessarily people who, if you met in person, would act any different than most people. The computer, however, hides their true identity in a way that lets many act without fear of reprisal.