By Jacqui Cheng | Published: November 30, 2006 – 01:19PM CT
The survey included 2,000 households in the US and defined an online community as “a group that shares thoughts or ideas, or works on common projects, through electronic communication only.” Perhaps unsurprisingly (especially to Ars Technica’s loyal readers and discussion participants), well over half of those participating in online communities reported doing so at least once a day. 70.4 percent “sometimes or always” interact with other members while logged in.
The report also found that as Internet users increasingly use the web to socialize, they also translate those online social connections to real-life activities. 20.3 percent of those who participate in online communities also participate in offline activities related to the online community at least once a year. Members of The Lounge can certainly attest that, in any given week of the year, it’s almost guaranteed that there is an “Arsmeet” happening somewhere around the world. Similarly, 40 percent of the respondents reported being more involved in social activism since they began to participate in online communities, with two thirds of those involved with social causes saying that they are now involved in activities because of the Internet.
What might be a surprise, though, is that all of this online interaction is apparently not detracting from interaction with close friends and family offline. While 37.7 percent of respondents said that the Internet helps them communicate more with family and friends, “almost all” users reported that increased Internet interaction has no effect on the amount of time spent with those people in real life.
Internet users also report that the Internet helps them make new friends, both online and off. Internet users, on average, have just under five contacts online who they consider to be “friends” but have never met in real life, and almost two friends in real life that they originally met online. Those numbers may seem low to those of us who frequent events like Arsmeets on a regular basis, but the report claims that the number of offline friends that originated online has more than doubled since the project began six years ago. Tipping the scales on the high end, I think it’s fairly safe to say that well over 80% of all of my real life friends and acquaintances originated from the Internet in some way—that’s well over just two people.
Most importantly, the report says that 43 percent of those who participate in online communities feel “as strongly” about their online buddies as those offline. What this shows is that—due to the proliferation of chat rooms, blogs, sites like MySpace, forums, games, virtual worlds, and other communities online—Internet users are reaching out to more people, not less, as technology critics have feared. So, anyone want to go grab a cup of coffee?