What People Do Online


Online conversations use many different technologies.  Group discussions (like web forums and email lists) are usually based around a particular topic – anything from a favorite sports team to cars to local communities to religion. Some people enjoy talking over instant messenger or chat programs. Others prefer text messaging using cell phones or other portable devices. Older technologies like Usenet and message boards are still around, too.

Curious about forums? Check out these two:

  •   Etiquette Hell is a web forum where people can share wedding nightmares and etiquette problems, and ask for advice or ideas. 
  • The Chowhound board focuses on excellent food. 
Blogs are collections of posts with commentary, links, photos, or other content by an author or authors on a persistent website. Many focus on a particular topic (anything from food to politics), but others are general.  Authors post on different schedules: some post every day, others might not post for a month or more.

Blogs normally have the newest content at the top. Blogger is a popular hosting site, but many people host blogs on their own site or through other hosts. You can use Google’s BlogSearch to find posts on topics that interest you and read those blogs.

Some blogs (often called web journals or online diaries) focus on the author’s life. Some sites allow the user to ‘lock’ entries so that only specific people can view protected posts, but other blogs are totally public.

Check out these blogs picked from the 2007 & 2008 Bloggie awards:

Many people use RSS readers to keep track of the blogs they read in one place (rather than check to see if each blog has updated individually).  Feed Me : A gentle introduction to Internet feeds is a great tutorial from a library cooperative.

Social Networking Sites allow users to create their own space (or profile), comment on other people’s profiles, and to interact (through comments, communities, and other discussions.) Users can share text, video, audio, and other clips with each other.  Some examples:

Online gaming sites allow users to play games (from Scrabble to chess to cards to role-playing games) online. Some are all text, many have graphics. Some games are designed and run by companies, others are run by committed volunteers. Some are free, others cost money. Some examples: 

A special category of games are known as Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (or MMORPGs) allow a large number of players (into the thousands) to interact on the same game at the same time. Players connect to the game’s servers with special software, then participate in quests for in-game benefits. Guilds or other groups of players often form smaller (sometimes tight-knit) communities within the game.  Most MMORPGs are hosted by for-profit companies with paid staff. Examples include World of Warcraft, Everquest II, City of Heroes, Guild Wars, and the Sims Online.

Other places:

There are some sites that don’t fit neatly into the categories we’ve talked about already: 

  • Wikis are a type of online software that let multiple people contribute and edit information. The most famous is Wikipedia but there are many others. They’re a great way to document group projects and resources.
  • Social bookmarking allows you to bookmark sites online, tag for easy sorting, and share them with friends. Del.icio.us is the best known site but there are others, too.
  • Podcasts exist on almost any topic. Check out the Podcast Directory for some ideas. YouTube has all kinds of videos, including how-tos, music, dance, and political discussion.
  • Virtual worlds like Second Life let you create an avatar to represent yourself, and then interact with others, create objects, and even have meetings and events.
  • There are too many productivity sites to list, but search for terms like ‘to do list’ and ‘online calendar’ or check out Thing 13 in 23 Things On A Stick (see explanation below).


A site called Common Craft focuses on creating informative videos that are easy to understand (and have demonstrations of what they’re talking about.

There’s also a Minnesota libraries project called 23 Things On A Stick. While the overall project (and a number of activities) are designed for librarians, many of the Things have good beginner-friendly introductions to these technologies.  Check the listing for a brief list: click on the link in each Thing to get a longer explanation and directions.


I've only included a very few well-known options here: there are many more to choose from. Explore! 

If you have questions you think I can help with, please feel free to send me an email; you can reach me at modernhypatia@gmail.com.

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