Virtual Communities are Having Their Moment

Virtual communities have become an integral part of modern society, allowing people from all over the world to connect and communicate with one another. The concept of virtual communities is not new, and it dates back to the early days of the internet. I wanted to explore some of the histories and introduce new ideas and predictions for the future of virtual communities, challenging what you may think about why it is so important to build strong online communities. For one, community is the only competitive advantage in the age of AI.

What is a Virtual Community?

A virtual community is a group of people who interact with one another through digital means. Virtual communities can take many different forms, from online forums to social media platforms. They allow people with common interests to connect, communicate, and share ideas, regardless of their physical location. Virtual communities can also provide a sense of belonging and support to their members, helping them to feel less isolated and more connected to others who share their values and interests.

The Earliest Online Community Platforms

One of the earliest online community platforms was Usenet, which was developed in 1979. Usenet was a bulletin board system that allowed users to post and read messages on a variety of topics. Usenet was the precursor to modern online forums, which are still popular today.

Another early online community platform was The WELL founded in 1985 as The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link. The WELL was a virtual community that focused on technology, counterculture, and the arts. The WELL was one of the first online communities to charge users a subscription fee, which helped to ensure that the community remained focused and engaged.

The Rise of Social Media

The rise of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has had a significant impact on the way we connect with one another online. Social media platforms allow users to create profiles, share content, and connect with friends and family members. They have also become a powerful tool for businesses to connect with customers and promote their products and services and leverage influencers to get out brand messaging.

The Dominance of Discord

Discord is a chat app that was launched in May 2015 by Jason Citron and Stan Vishnevskiy. The app was initially designed for gamers to communicate with each other during gameplay, but it quickly became popular with other communities.

Before launching Discord, Citron and Vishnevskiy had created an app called Fates Forever, which was a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game. While working on Fates Forever, they realized that there was a need for a chat app that would allow gamers to communicate with each other in real time during gameplay. I remember standing in a long line at Pax East to get Discord swag. It’s an app that I use every day to stay connected with my communities.

Discord was designed to be lightweight and easy to use, with features such as voice and text chat, file sharing, and the ability to create and join servers. The app also has a customizable user interface, which allows users to personalize their experience.

In January 2023, it was estimated that Discord had approximately 563 million registered users, up by over 87 percent compared to the 300 million users reported in June 2020, according to L. Ceci from Statista. The app continues to expand its features and capabilities and has completely leaned into community. Discord is used by a wide range of communities and organizations, from small gaming groups to large corporations and universities. It has become a popular platform for remote work and virtual events.

Why Companies Should Build Virtual Communities

  1. Customer engagement: Virtual communities allow companies to engage with their customers on a more personal level, building relationships and loyalty. By providing a platform for customers to connect with each other and with the company, businesses can foster a sense of belonging and create a more engaged customer base.
  2. Customer feedback: Virtual communities provide a space for customers to give feedback on products and services, allowing companies to gather insights into customer preferences, pain points, and needs. This information can be used to improve products and services, leading to better customer satisfaction.
  3. Brand awareness: Virtual communities can also be used to increase brand awareness and reach. By creating a platform where customers can share their experiences and opinions, companies can reach a wider audience and build a stronger brand reputation.
  4. Sales and marketing: Virtual communities can also be used as a platform for sales and marketing. By offering exclusive promotions, discounts, or early access to new products, companies can incentivize customers to join and engage with the community, driving sales and revenue.
  5. Innovation and co-creation: Virtual communities can also be a source of innovation and co-creation. By involving customers in product development and ideation, companies can tap into the creativity and knowledge of their customer base, leading to new and innovative products and services.

The Rise of Virtual Communities: In Conversation with Virtual World Pioneers Book

I just got word about a new book by Amber Atherton. Amber’s book is called, “The Rise of Virtual Communities: In Conversation with Virtual World Pioneers“. The book comes out on May 15, 2023, from Apress. It is going to include history, interviews, and insights all related to the online community. The book is for community managers, company founders, and marketers. 

Here are the folks that are featured in the book:

  • Randy Farmer & Chip Morningstar – Lucasfilm Games ‘Habitat’ 
  • Howard Rheingold – Community expert and member of the WELL
  • Stacy Horn – Founder of Echo NYC
  • Jim Bumgardner – Founder of The Palace
  • Philip Rosedale – Founder of Second Life
  • Sampo Karjalainen – Co-founder of Habbo Hotel
  • Lance Priebe – Co-Founder of Club Penguin 
  • Angelo Sotira – Co-Founder of Deviant Art 
  • Caterina Fake – Co-Founder of Flickr
  • Alexis Ohanian- Founder of Reddit 
  • Kevin Rose – Co-Founder of Digg & PROOF Collective
  • Jason Citron – Founder of Discord 
  • Trevor McFedries – Founder of FWB & Brud 
  • Cherie Hu – Founder of Water & Music
  • Michelle Kennedy – Founder of Peanut

I am looking forward to reading the book. The reviews have me sold.

  • Lots of people talk about community, but few know how to build it. To understand the history of internet communities, and be inspired to build your own, this is the book to read.”  – Mike Butcher,  Editor-at-large, Tech Crunch
  • “Every start-up founder who goes through Y Combinator sees first-hand the power of being part of a community. Atherton’s book provides a history of valuable insights for the next generation to build legendary communities upon.”  – Michael Seibel, Managing Director, Y-Combinator
  • “This book is an excellent read for any founder or leader looking to learn how to build community from the very best.” – Jessica Sibley, CEO, TIME INC
  • “Reading this book is a masterclass in managing and designing communities.”.  – @GregIsenberg, Community Expert

Let’s discuss community on our Discord server.

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