Using Applied Sociology to Navigate Internet Communities

The internet has created a new and interesting concept of sociology and how applied sociology can be used which wasn’t quite perceptible to begin with. When the internet was first conceived it was seen as more of a tool for research and learning. And it has been just that, greatly so for the field of sociology.

However, as advancements were made with internet technology and more people began using it the landscape changed. No longer is the internet just a creation for calculations, it is also a place for mass communication. It is a place for people to gather, to find like-minded and not so like-minded people that they can interact with. Eventually the groups that formed began to be organized into the internet communities that they are today.

This burgeoning world of societies is an amusement park for the science of sociology. It’s a whole new way to look at how we group ourselves and what it is that forms and regulates these groups. It is even more interesting considering that location isn’t one of the boundaries for internet societies and rarely does actual physical interaction occur.

In these new societies we must act as applied sociologists to understand how we are to interact within those communities that are cropping up every day as the internet expands. Analysis is also needed to understand how these internet communities of the virtual world intertwine and affect us in real world societies.

One of the most widely used methods of applied sociology is observation. It is a quick, effective way to gather information about the behavior of a particular society, including those of the internet. Because you won’t be physically gathering behavior cues it is key to concentrate on what is being said and how it is delivered. This is what is known as content analysis in applied sociology. You should have a good idea of the type of community to expect if you know the subject or topic that’s at the core of a website.

However, not until you observe the interaction within the internet community will you understand the norms of the internet society, what’s appropriate opposed to what’s not. This couldn’t be truer for social networking sites like MySpace. These internet phenomenons interlace thousands of people at once, however the rules of stratification that can be found in regular societies still hold true in internet communities.

Within MySpace alone there are dozens of ways to categorize yourself which automatically leads to division within the larger group. This takes the internet society from macro level to meso level which in and of itself changes the social structure. The more you break it down the more significant the changes become between the internet communities leading to different sets of behavioral rules.

Beyond the giants like MySpace there are millions of micro level internet communities that are even more concentrated in the types of people that form the society and the guidelines they’ve created for interacting within it. Asking questions like what influences have brought them together or if there is a common cause will help you better understand the culture behind the internet community. What people share is part of the creation of a society. Socialization is the term for the creation of these shared symbols and beliefs.

Another interesting area of study of sociology on the internet is concerning online poker, and the government's role in censorship. There is an intriguing article about the (im)proper role of government censorship posted at the Northwestern law review. The legislation, signed into law on October 13th, 2006 by President Bush, is highly controversial amongst political pundits and poker advocates alike.

The purpose for the internet community will also direct the behavior of its members greatly. Was the community formed as a purely social network or one for education, building business relations, politics, sharing do it yourself projects? If you’re unsure, the applied sociology method of archival research could help you dig up when the internet community began, what its original mission was, past forum disscussions and more.

Perhaps the best way to understand and get a feeling for an internet community is by the applied sociology method of participant observation. By actually getting on the site and interacting with others you’ll get a first-hand experience as to what the internet community is like and how the members interact. And today this isn’t limited to text communication. We can now stream voice and pictures over the internet instantly allowing us to not only speak and see each other but also instantly share video and audio files as well to help us communicate our ideas and share them with one another.

The internet has changed how we communicate in general. There are functions for filtering content, for excluding foul language and even to block a person from communicating all together. We are learning to communicate within new confines as well as societies with few boundaries. As we’ve become more comfortable with these changes in communication they’ve begun stretching beyond the computer into the real world.

Sociologists are just now gaining the ability to measure how communication through the internet alters the way we communicate in person. The lack of physical interaction and anonymity of communicating online had become a growing concern. This is especially true for the younger generation who has never known life without these internet communities and news ways of communicating.

Regardless of whether the affects internet communities have on real life societies are positive or negative the one thing that’s certain is it has forever altered our perception of what a society is.

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