Many use the Internet to connect with online communities that embrace their hobbies, their professions, their passions, and their beliefs
28 million go online with church groups, sports leagues, and social organizations in their home towns
WASHINGTON-The Internet allows tens of millions of Americans to participate in a thriving social world where they enjoy serious and satisfying contact with online communities.
Some 84% of Internet users have contacted an online group. That means that more Americans have used the Internet to contact a group than have gotten news online, or searched for health information, or bought a product.
Many of these online groups are far flung and allow Internet users to connect easily with others around the world who share their passions, beliefs, hobbies, and lifestyles. At the same time, 26% of online Americans use the Internet to intensify their connection to their local community by planning church meetings, organizing neighborhood gatherings, arranging local sports league operations, coordinating charity activities, and petitioning local politicians.
These findings represent some hopeful news that the Internet can be a tool for vigorous social engagement, rather than a technology that spurs isolation and alienation among users.
These results come in a survey of Internet users by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a research organization that examines the social impact of the Internet. They are contained in a report entitled, “Online Communities: Networks that nurture long-distance relationships and local ties.”
“For vast numbers of Americans, use of the Internet simultaneously expands their social worlds and connects them more deeply to the place where they live,” says Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “Online groups are comfortable places for people to congregate and get to know organizations and people they might never have encountered.”
Many online Americans are using the Internet to connect to traditional groups that exist in the offline world such as professional and trade associations, hobby enthusiast organizations, religious groups, ethnic and racial fraternal organizations, and political groups. A surprisingly large number of those contacting online groups (56%) say they became active in a group — even traditional, offline organizations — after they began communicating with it over the Internet.
At the same time, millions of online Americans now use the Internet to connect to groups to which they belonged before they began using the Internet – and they report that their use of the Internet has helped them become more involved with those groups.
One other encouraging sign is that use of the Internet is drawing new kinds of people to groups. In particular, young adults and minorities are using the Internet to participate in all kinds of online clubs and organizations and this is leading to new forms of civic involvement.
“The network of networks has become a collection of communities,” said John Horrigan, senior researcher at the Pew Internet Project and principal author of the report. “Many actively engage in cyber groups through email and bulletin boards that are lively forums for sharing ideas, hashing out issues, and making new friends.”
The Pew Internet Project study identifies 9 different types of Internet users who are attracted to online groups. Many belong to several types: On average, a Cyber Groupie (or someone who has checked out an online group) has visited 4 different online groups at one time or another. The different types are:
Here are some other key findings from the survey:
The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a nonpartisan, independent research organization funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to study the impact of the Internet on families, communities, health care, education, civic and political life, and the work place.