Finding Intelligent Conversation Online
by Greg KnollenbergToday's online communities can provide hours of interaction with like-minded souls on an endless array of topics. People can meet and interact with others for general discussions or arrange pre-scheduled events and meetings. With a few years of development behind them, many online communities have large numbers of active members engaging in conversation at all hours of the day. For a writer, these communities can provide feedback on ideas, critiquing, and the opportunity to listen to or communicate with experts in specialized fields.
Online communities allow for interaction through several different formats such as chat rooms, discussion boards and discussion groups. These facilities can be found in websites and other resources online ranging from discussion boards on a small ezines to community sections on major newspapers. There are sites that function as a community, while other sites might have a community section within their websites -- as a complement to the website's other content.
A quick way to find discussion related to your topic of interest is simply to use a search engine. Search for "political discussion" if you want to find people discussion politics or "weather discussion" if you want to discuss the weather with other people. Of course, you may not always find "intelligent" conversation online and sometimes there will be trolls or the conversation will be dominated by individuals or groups pushing their specific viewpoints.
When this article was first written for The Internet Writing Journal there was no social media. Today, social media is the dominant form of online conversation. Services like Reddit facilitate conversation through thousands of Subreddits on a myriad of topics. There are millions of people discussing topics through short text updates on Twitter. Twitter often is best for finding discussion of very recent news. You can also communicate with others on Facebook, which claims to have over a billion users. There are also people communicating through photos and text on Instagram. If you are looking for discussion of your subject matter you will likely find it on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook. Facebook also offers groups related to different topics.
Social media is the way most online discussion takes place today but a discussion forum on your specific topic might be where you can find the most intelligent discussion of your subject. This is especially true if you can find a community that has moderators. Online discussion or message boards - such as writing forums - can provide excellent opportunities to discuss current events, popular topics, solve technical problems and meet others. They can also serve as an answer service for a company to provide feedback or online support. Also known as online forums, these discussion boards take the form of bulletin boards and allow users to post questions to the public or respond to comments and queries from others.
There are countless discussion boards online and you can find them everywhere from personal homepages to major newspapers' websites. To find discussion of your topic you need to locate discussion forums that pertain to your subjects. Some of the major online hubs such as search engines and online services used to have huge discussion board facilities, such as Yahoo and AOL. Because of the large traffic on the major Internet hubs their communities provided active discussion on a great variety of topics. However, today most of the discussion takes place at the end of articles. Users register with the site or the discussion service and they can add comments at the end of that website's articles. Many online newspapers and leading websites enable comments where visitors can engage in discussion related to the articles.
A quick way to find forums is to use the list on Wikipedia, which describes an Internet forum as a "an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages." The site has an alphabetical list of dozens of active online communities. Many of the Subreddits on Reddit are very active and have moderators to greatly reduce spam and trolling.
Newsgroups and Google Groups
Newsgroups, also known as Internet Discussion Groups, were popular vehicles for online discussion before social media developed. Newsgroup discussion could be viewed online or read with a newsreader. A moderated newsgroup had a moderator, which is live person that removed inappropriate postings to the newsgroup, such as commercial postings and unwanted spam, a time-consuming process that is much appreciated by the other newsgroup readers. Newsgroups had simple rules regarding how discussion takes place. Because proper etiquette is necessary to be accepted by the group, a FAQ (frequently asked questions) was available from the newsgroup itself to explain any special protocols are required. Many people never posted at all, but still read the newsgroup regularly. This was an activity that is known as "lurking" to the newsgroup community.
Dejanews, which was one of the largest providers of newsgroup discussions, was acquired by Google. Google offers discussion through its Google Groups site. Google Groups offers discussion of a wide variety of topics. You can search the site to find groups and messages. The old newsgroups - such as - rec.arts.sf.misc - are archived on Google Groups.
Mailing Lists, or discussion lists, are distributed by email, and allow each subscribing member of the list to comment or respond. Each individual email is sent around to subscribers of the list. Many mailing lists are also available in a digest form, where the subscriber will receive one file containing all the messages at the end of a specific time period, usually 24 hours, instead of receiving a message each time there is a comment or response.
(Update) Discussion lists were a big deal when this article was first written. They are not as popular today with the advancement of chat, forums and smartphone apps but they are still used. You can find some discussion lists at CataList. You can also try searching for a "discussion list" and the topic you are interest in.
Other Communities and Chat
Online chat takes place in a variety of formats depending on the software being used. Formats of online chat include text-based chat -- with text that scrolls by as the users engage in conversation, chat where the user is represented by a small graphic, called an avatar and chat in virtual 3-D Worlds, such as Second Life and video games. Chats can also be presented a number of ways. There are open chat rooms in which "free chat" takes place, organized chats where people decide to unite to discuss a specific topic and there are moderated chat rooms with assigned guests and speakers. The chats where you will learn the most are the moderated chats or live events -- there are hundreds of these occurring daily all across the Web. There are also live streaming events on sites like YouTube Live where people are texting while watching the streaming event. This can be entertaining but the conversations consist of very short messages that often go by very quickly.
Many people also engage in direct contact with other individuals without venturing to any websites. They do this by using one of the popular messaging or chat smartphone apps. Some of the leading apps today include WhatsApp, Line, Snapchat, WeChat and Telegram. There is also instant messaging software that works with the PC like ICQ and Trillian. With this software you can track friends and family online and send live messages back and forth.
A Busy Web
Although this article can provide you with numerous places to begin your search for online communities and live events, its up to you to decide what works best for you. There are likely to be numerous communities, discussion groups and live events that will peak your interest. So, the next time you're feeling bereft of intelligent conversation on your favorite topic, fire up the computer and go search for some kindred spirits in cyberspace. Good luck!
Note: This article was last updated on 9-12-19.
**Greg Knollenberg is the CEO of Writers Write, Inc.