I gave a talk at a recent event where I defined two different types of communities based on content and relative freedom. These two communities were “Free” and “Specific.” Allow me to explain in more depth.
Free communities such as Twitter and Facebook are venues that allow for anyone to say anything they want. It’s great for expressing opinions about daily events, or telling jokes with other users. The possibilities for content in these communities is endless.
However, the price of admission is relative to how you understand privacy and how it relates to your content. Let’s get real here: Nothing you post to the Internet is private. It’s just not always public knowledge.
In specific communities, privacy is a bigger deal. Blogs that publish sensitive information or silly inside jokes might allow posters and commenters to be anonymous just so users can enjoy the content related to that specific site. If you start asking for email addresses from commenters, however, you’ll get some resistance. The blog might have less comments as a result, but they might have an easier time moderating those comments they do have.
Forums, on the other hand, might be a different monster altogether. Specific communities that run message board software differentiate themselves from blogs because there isn’t a set staff generating content on the forum. Instead, anyone who registers can create content.
Handles or screen-names are generally encouraged on some forums because of the sensitive information being passed along from user to user. Information like this isn’t necessarily something that might be secret, but shouldn’t be tracked back to you. Many people engage in this sort of group messaging to share experiences with others who might have gone through the same ordeal or situation.
Even with handles and required membership to track users, many forums choose to hide content to unregistered users and those who the forum deems unfit to join the conversation.
Military forums are a great example of this, as I’ve seen in some recent client research. While there’s a great sense of camaraderie between those who have served in the armed forces, they have their own set of issues that prompt the community’s leadership to close the forum down to only users that might verify one’s military career or a spouse’s military career before you can post. Some even track guests who haven’t registered.
Specific communities see outside influence as threatening more often than not unless you are one of them. From free social networking groups to private message boards, privacy is the most valuable asset in these communities. The web will change, but that much will always be true.