But how do communities sustain themselves online? There are four main tools for community interaction:
Newsgroups are the oldest part of the Internet (also called the Usenet): they are a slightly improved version of the Bulletin Boards of yore, employing the same basic elements of “post” and “reply”. A post and all of its replies and replies to replies is called a “thread”.
NGs can be “moderated” when someone reviews contributions and accepts/rejects them or, far more commonly, “non moderated”, where contributions are automatically accepted. Once created, Newsgroups are picked up by individual News servers, which means they do not depend on any particular server for survival; as such, they are the only true Community-owned tool.
Forums have a similar interaction mechanism, but allow for richer content and are hosted on a site, which means they actually belong to someone.
Mailing lists are another ancient tool: discussions are held by submitting posts and replies to a common mailing address which then propagates them back to the list. To make sure they are compatible with all mail systems, ML only use basic SMTP features and, given the structure, they are moderated by definition.
Blogs (including Moblogs, Vlogs and podcasting) are the latest addition to the toolkit and, as the name says, are nothing but web versions of a log; whether and how often other people read a blog depends on many circumstances, including the popularity of the author, still there are between 35 and 70 million blogs today and the count is rising by some 40,000 a day!
A positioning graph can be drawn with one axis labeled “Interaction” and the other “Content richness”, placing the four tools in the four quadrants, which means that no individual tool can claim representations for all forms of community interaction. In general we can say that Net seniority is in the left half, ease of use in the right half, large masses of people will gravitate to the top half.