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Bisexuality Online:

Finding & Creating Virtual Spaces

Lynna Landstreet
9ICB — June 16/06

  • Background
    • Creating web sites since 1996
    • Professional web developer since 97 (see my business site)
    • Prior to that, active on mailing lists, local BBS’s
    • Have developed a wide variety of business, organizational and personal sites, run mailing lists and forums, etc.
  • History
    • Now, people think of online communities in terms of web. But web originally for information, not interaction. — Internet up until 95 was primarily academic/technical, and not opened to commercial interests until 95.
    • Earliest online communities BBS’s – had to dial specific local number. Often quite private. Some networks connected, but each independent. Early 80s to mid 90s.
    • Also Usenet newsgroups — developed in 1980 and still exists today, though much less popular now.
    • E-mail lists have been around almost as long as e-mail itself, but not widespread until mid-90s. E-mail itself started before Internet, on local networks — possibly as early as 65.
    • Live chat had its origins with IRC in late 80s; now many different platforms, mostly commercial (AIM, Yahoo, MSN, etc.).
    • World Wide Web first proposed by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, debuted in 1991. Originally just hypertext information system.
    • In 1995 Internet opened up to commercial interests, and then explosion of popularity morphed it into what we have now — positive and negative, as will later be discussed.
    • Web gained interactive features, partly due to commercial demand, but benefited community groups as well. Enabled to reach large numbers of people much more affordably than print media.
    • Discussion forums — began around 95. Evolution of BBS concept. Very popular now, tending to displace mailing lists.
    • Blogs — individual diaries have been around since mid-90s, term “weblog” coined in 97, shortened to “blog” a few years later. Blogger and Livejournal started in 99. Form of popular journalism. In some ways, evolution of zines.
    • Integrated content management systems — from early systems like PHPnuke, Postnuke to more advanced ones like Joomla (formerly Mambo), Xoops, Drupal — can combine many of above features. News posting, blogs, forums, more. Can usually be administered by non-technical people.
  • How-To
    • To start exploring online world, first ask yourself what you want
      • Explore existing communities, or create your own?
      • Meet people — friends, partners?
      • Keep circle of people in touch?
      • Express your views?
      • Show artwork or photos?
      • Raise profile of an organization?
      • Educate people?
      • Find support?
    • Next: what are your skills?
      • Technical?
      • Writing?
      • Art/design?
      • Leadership?
      • Communication?
      • People management?
      • Diplomacy?
    • If non-technical, you may want to:
      • Join existing community
      • Or have professional developer set up site for you, or help teach you how
      • Or collaborate with friends who have the skills you don't
    • Things to think about when creating your own site
      • First, purpose. How is it different from other sites?
      • Who is target audience?
      • What other sites out there are similar to yours?
        • What will your visitors who have been to those sites expect?
        • What can you offer them that they're not getting there?
        • Are there technologies those sites use that you could use too?
      • Do it on your own, or with others?
      • Static HTML, or dynamic?
      • What do you want it to accomplish?
      • Possible software to use:
        • Maintaining static site:
        • Dynamic site:
          • Blog: WordPress (very good, open source), MovableType (commercial — was popular, but now most MT users I know have migrated to WP), or can embed LJ in own site
          • Gallery: Gallery, Coppermine (both good, open source)
          • Forums: PHPbb (the most popular open source forum), Invision (excellent, but commercial), MiniBB (open source, small, quick and simple, but sometimes tricky to install/upgrade), Quicksilver (open source, feature-rich but still faster than PHPbb — only down side is can be hard to customize)
          • CMS: Xoops (flexible, easy to use, but can be a little buggy), Joomla (more stable than Xoops, and looks slicker, but more complicated to administer), Drupal (most flexible of all, and my personal favourite, but definitely meant for computer geeks, not ordinary people)
        • More on open source software: Wikipedia article, official definition, FAQ
      • What you need to get your site online (apart from ideas and software):
        • A domain name (registration usually around $10-15US/year)
        • Web hosting — prices vary, but usually around $10 US/month for basic service.
        • I use Dreamhost for both domain registration, and hosting most of my sites.
  • Sociocultural Effects of Internet
    • Summary:
      • Good: opened up previously marginal communities to much greater public awareness
      • Bad: opened up previously marginal communities to much greater public awareness :-)
    • Positive effects:
      • Major boon to nonprofit organizations, especially small grassroots ones. Can reach large number of people for fraction of cost of print media. Small press publications always struggling — with Internet, can get message out much more affordably
      • Speed of communication — can mobilize activists very quickly (“And they told two friends... and they told two friends...”) 2000 Stockwell/Doris Day petition example (350,000 sigs needed – 1.2 million obtained)
      • Bring social contact to isolated people. Queer teens in small towns, etc.
      • Anonymous forum for interaction helpful to closeted people
    • Negative effects:
      • Small communities often swamped with large numbers of newcomers who don’t fully understand communities’ traditions, culture, etc. Can be damaging to community’s integrity.
      • People exposed to idea of things they can’t actually access in real life — can be frustrating.
      • Down side of anonymity is lack of accountability
      • Addictive potential. Can become further and further immersed in virtual world, losing touch with real one, especially if real life not satisfactory. Less impulse to change — just escape online.
      • Friendships and even relationships becoming increasingly virtual. Examples:
        • Coven applications from people overseas
        • BDSM stories — “cane expert” and “no one does this in real life” stories
        • Long-distance relationships becoming norm
          • Get to know personality without physical appearance intervening — has both pros and cons
          • Potential for misrepresentation
          • Even if honest, chemistry may or may not be there in person
          • Can you really fall in love only with personality?
          • Sometimes works out, sometimes doesn't
    • Moving forward: how to take advantage of positive aspects without falling pretty to negative? (open for discussion)


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