Virtual neighborhoods and communities are a by-product of the computer age. The linking together of computers, first through Bulletin Boards and later through the internet, allowed people with similar interests and views to communicate with each other.
In the 1980’s a revolution took place as the personal computer was born. It leapt out of the labs and garages of engineering students and into the public domain. These new tools remained a bit of a mystery to those ready to adopt them. Early hobbyists formed local computer clubs where people met to ask questions and share information. After a while, some hobbyists would set up computers dedicated to sharing information using software that allowed other hobbyists to dial in and post messages on their Bulletin Board Service. Although crude by today’s standards, these Bulletin Boards were the earliest form of a virtual neighborhood where people with a common interest could share with each other.
These sometimes live interactive discussions take place on various computers located around the world and connected by the internet. They allow a man sitting in his living room in Australia to talk to a woman sitting at a desk in the United States, while chatting with a woman on a train in England. The newest of these virtual communities is a service known as Twitter which not only connects computers through the internet but allows access to cellphones through text messaging.
I have been active on Twitter for over a year and have “met” many new friends in other countries through it. I have noticed the differences in attitudes between cultures about the use of social networks like Twitter. It has been harder to meet other Americans because most prefer either texting people they actually know or posting to the modern BB’s, like Facebook, over the “here and now” of Twitter. Europeans are more open to chatting away during lulls in their day.
The real world extensions of these Twitter subgroups or “conversation pods” is either a tweet-up or a twissup, depending on where you live. In Europe these meetings are purely social in nature, often set in local establishments. In the United States, businesses use Social Media services to reach out to new or existing customers. The real world meetings tend to be more “business networking” than social gathering.
Facebook and Twitter can help businesses to grow their customer base and better serve their existing customers. The online neighborhoods and communities can also provide needed emotional support and contact that is difficult to make in today’s hectic world. They can also allow businesses to respond more rapidly to their customers concerns and problems thus improving the customer relationship.