Internet communities, spaces where people with similar identities and interests interact, are a massive opportunity. General internet spaces are becoming hostile. Societal shifts are forcing more people to rethink the communities they are apart of. Big companies in the space have stagnated. Trends are moving in the right direction. Here are some important ones:
Lack of Innovation
To start, communities exist on platforms. The platforms shape how communities interact with each other and develop. Many of the platforms were not build for the internet we have today.
Forums and Reddit are the most obvious ones, and both could be victims to disruption. They have been around forever, and have not changed. Neither is mobile-first. They work, I guess, but they aren’t super attractive. Discord, Slack, and others are creating alternative places for communities to exist online.
Voice and video have a massive role to play in internet communities but have taken a back seat to text until recently. Many people now spend all day on video conferencing for work and have a camera on them at all times. Voice apps are yet to take off but the popularity of podcasts and Airpods show promise.
TikTok showed a different way to create a community. When you focus on video and mobile-first, community looks different. Instead of you choosing your community, TikTok puts you into a community based on what you interact with. I expect to see more of this moving forward.
People looking for a way out of political tribalism. The fewer communities someone is a part of, the more likely they see a core community as a political group. Politics on the internet is a mind killer but is incentivized by public platforms. There are always other people who feel strongly with you. You don’t have to know much about the subject to gain status. You can “fight” people online. You can pretend you are doing something valuable. Politics is an easy community to be apart of, but people will grow tired of political tribalism. They will look for other options.
In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream.
Debate and disagreement cannot be public. It is not acceptable to change your mind. It is not acceptable to have an opposing opinion. Controversial opinions and topics moved out of view.
Ideas don’t cease to exist when they are uncomfortable, they move to places where they are spoken about. They move into the dark forest, hidden communities. Many of these communities already exist on the internet and will only continue to grow. As the size of these dark forest communities grows, so will their impact.
Community leads to education. To become a better member (or even a member at all) people must learn things. Ideas, jargon, people, and companies are all examples of information someone might need to learn. Communities often recommend ways of developing the knowledge needed to join. I expect these to expand.
Internet education is cool, but only when high-status members of a community create and deliver it. Many creators added private communities to their offerings. Students learn and interact with the content better within communities than on their own.
Internet communities will be part of the future of education. In-person communities are the only thing Universities do well. If University is over Zoom, are those communities still valuable? The increasing amount of people deferring think not. A large number of people will be looking at other options, and internet communities may provide a path forward.
Work from Anywhere
Office small talk that might have fulfilled the social and community aspects of people’s days disappeared. People are social animals, they need interaction and will look for it elsewhere. Internet communities are an obvious place to start. Many companies are realizing they need to create their own internet community to work virtually. It is not clear what good company internet communities look like.
Less commuting also means more time to spend pursuing things other than work. Does this mean more time playing video games and watching Netflix or more time as a member of a community?
Internet communities enable sharing of content and products. If you create something good within a community it will be seen by many of its members. Li Jin of a16z says:
New digital platforms enable people to earn a livelihood in a way that highlights their individuality. These platforms give providers greater ability to build customer relationships, increased support in growing their businesses, and better tools for differentiating themselves from the competition. In the process, they’re fueling a new model of internet-powered entrepreneurship.
Lots of people are making a living creating for internet communities. Many more will continue to do this. Being able to understand and appeal to your community is critical to success in this area. As internet communities become more coordinated and understandable, their economic power grows. Lots of people will be competing for a piece in lots of communities.
The future of internet communities is bright, and there is still plenty of opportunities to pursue. It is something I will be looking into more. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, message me on Twitter or send me an email.