When the Net and the Real World Collide

By Deane Barker

A friend and I were talking tonight about the perils of setting up a Web community to compliment a real-world community. For instance, a community Web site for your church, or for your neighborhood – so a group people that would interact with each other both online and off.

(And by “community,” I mean two-way interaction – a Web site where people can post things themselves: a newsgroup-ish type thing.)

Now, Web communities can go downhill in a hurry. There’s a bigger chance for misunderstandings, and people have a tendency to be bolder and more frank when they’re writing than when they’re talking. Thus, Web communities can fragment when someone pisses someone else off, a flame war starts, feelings get hurt, etc. We’ve all seen it happen, I’m sure.

With a purely Web-based community – like we have here, for instance – there’s not too much at stake. This Web site is the only way most of us “know” each other, and if we all got in a big fight, we could all just fade back into the Net. The Internet, after all, is a big place and we never have to “see” each other again.

But say me and Matt got in a huge, vicious flame war, and it got really ugly. And now say that he and I go to the same church. And our kids are friends. And they go to the same daycare.

What if Fabian and I were assigned the same shift to work the concession stand at the local school fundraiser?

That said, is there a greater danger when your Web community is paralleled by a “real” community? The Web-based interaction is the one more prone to social disaster, and wouldn’t that leak over into the “real” interactions?

Thoughts, anyone? Examples?

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