I had an interesting discussion going on in my forum. Since Daniweb does not allow URLs, I will paste my message which I wrote on my forum and which I consider as my theory of online forums.
My theory on online communities is pretty much based on real human social life.
You see, in life, we often mingle with the people who make us feel most comfortable. This is often dictated by factors like similar social standing, similar education, similar kinds of belief systems and so on. Quite apart from similar interests. We find a society that we can move around in on more or less an equal standing. Most human beings are uncomfortable both in the presence of their social superiors and social inferiors, no matter how much they claim that they believe in equality. Equality applies to a lot of things, but as human beings, we know inherently that no two people are alike. It is quite possible that though two people might outwardly be treating one another as equal, there might exist a friction between them which does not quite bring them closer. Such people might remain acquaintances for years, but they may never become friends.
What binds people as a community is not just shared interests, though shared interests are a motivating factor in building a community. There is something more to a community feeling that is beyond just pure knowledge.
It is my belief that online forums are similar. There is almost a mysterious process that brings people together to form a community online, even though outwardly a common subject or common interests bind them together. More often than not, it is factors such as the feeling of being on an a more or less equal social or intellectual level as the other members that makes a community grow. Similar levels of intelligence attract each other and this is seen in a wide variety of forums online.
I have seen a wide variety of forums and I believe that it is not just shared knowledge that binds people but shared levels of knowledge as well.
You can see it in the way many patterns exist in these forums. In many forums, you can see that though most regular members are obsessed with a certain subject (say Linux on a Linux forum) yet two Linux forums are never the same. You can discern the quality of shared intelligence by scanning through several threads in both forums. When you see two forums that are dedicated to the same subject of interest, which forum attracts you better will most likely be determined by your own level of knowledge and what kind of mentality pervades the forum.
The level of common intelligence is often a determining factor in not only how many people contribute to the forum but also what kind of people contribute.
In a way, it is so true to quote that "birds of a feather, flock together." I think online communities are also built along similar lines.
Let me summarize my theory:
Any particular online community attracts people of not only similar interest but also people of similar levels of intelligence. In other words, the lowest common level of shared knowledge and intelligence of an online community determines not only how many people contribute to the community but also what kind of people contribute to it.
What are your thoughts on this? :)