Online Communities and Changing Communication Style

Posted on May 16, 2011

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by Eunji Swan Song

The word ‘community’ exists in every society and generally refers to ‘all the people who live in a particular area or country’.

These days, however, community doesn’t merely mean that. More people have been forming their own online communities on the internet. Wikipedia, for example, defines an ‘online community’ as ‘a virtual community that exists online whose members enable its existence through taking part in membership ritual’.

The History of Online Community in Korea

The first generation of online community in Korea goes back to the 1990s. At that time, people connected to the internet using a  2400 bps modem which was connected to their telephone system. Some of the online platforms included Chunrian, Nawoonuri, and Hitel which were called ‘PC Tongshin’ as a whole. People gathered by following their interests such as music, movies, and games.

“I’m the first generation of using PC tongshin. Now I remember blue screen. I was using a modem to connect, so I couldn’t use the telephone while I was using the internet. I used to participate in a music club,” said Kwanghoon Song who now runs a computer store in the city of Mokpo.

Many chatrooms were born during that era. As online chatrooms became popular, the term ‘Bun-Gae’ (‘thunderbolt’ in English, meaning meet in person) appeared. This term is still used.

As more people gathered online, the subject of community took on various meaning. ‘I love school’, which is an alumni association, was popular among people who wanted to find their old classmates. Fans of Korean pop stars created online communities and fan pages to share their favorite star’s photos, videos, and personal information. Some of the most successful online communities are those whose members have invested positive approaches to posting and carrying on conversations in forums and chatrooms. Online communities are used to chat and partake in a virtual social network. Since Naver and Cyworld started their ‘Club’ system, people can easily create and remove online clubs so subjects can be more casual.

Main page of YONDO. capture by http://www.yondo.net

University, Business…Online Communities Can Be Useful to Everyone.  

The most active community is that of universities. For the generation who has used the internet since children, online communities are essential in their life. Almost every university has its own online communities. SNULIFE (Seoul National University), KOPAS (Korea University), Ehwaian(Ehwa Women’s University) are examples of online university communities in Korea.

“We can share lots of things through our online community. I can’t imagine how my school life would be like without it,” said Soeun Kim, a senior at Seoul National University.

Yonsei University also has several online communities where students can gather and talk to each other. Seiyon-net (Shinchon campus) and Yonfeel-net (Wonju campus) are the largest and most popular websites among students. These websites offer a bulletin board about various subjects so students can share their thoughts and opinions.

Yonsei University’s school newspaper, Yonsei-Chunchu, runs a community called ‘YONDO’ which stands for ‘Yonsei Digital Opinion’. By visiting YONDO, students can get information about lectures, school life, and current news.

“Yonsei-Chunchu was only a print newspaper. But it wasn’t enough as most students read their news online. We created a community in form of a web-zine several years ago,” said Seokhyun Jung, the editor-in chief of Yonsei-Chunchu.

Main page of Youngsamsung. Captured by http://www.youngsamsung.com

Many enterprises are also running communities to promote their business and make their image friendly to customers. Samsung runs a community called ‘Young Samsung’ for university students.

“Communities like Young Samsung are useful for both the enterprise and for students who are looking for job. Now many other enterprises are following this system,” said Kwangyeol Jung, head of the public relations department at Samsung Electronics. He created the community six years ago. Young Samsung now has a community of two million members.

When Online Community Met Twitter

Significant socio-technical change may have resulted from the proliferation of such internet-based social networks. As various kinds of social media develop, there has been an effort to mix internet communities with social media such as Twitter and Facebook. By using social media, people can communicate faster than ever before. When they write something on the board, they can immediately check out responses. These days many communities have a separate Twitter frame. The internet and media is changing from communication style to human life.

Am I Meeting with Cyber Robot?  

Of course, there is a dark side to communities moving online. People don’t need to gather offline because they can share everything they want online. There are concerns that the speed of communication has become much faster than before, but the contents and information lacks substance.

“I think true pleasure of communication is sharing thoughts and feelings with mutual eye contact. Online, however, all that I can encounter is just a series of letters, not a person. Sometimes I feel like I’m communicating with robot,” said Yoonsik Jo, a student of Ajoo University. He is trying to live an ‘analogue life’ by using internet only when it is necessary.

Kim Bang Hyun, a student at Yonsei University majoring in communication said, “I think the internet has to function only as an arena where people gather, but it is still more desirable for people to associate with each other face to face offline.”

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