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A Place in Space Self Presentation and Cohesion in an Online Community
by Holly Jensen 
04/12/07
Not For Sale
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The following article is a draft of the paper I am writing as a part of a university class. It is a part of a research project which I am doing on the FaithWriters.com message boards as a community. I have posted this draft here because its length potentially prohibbits its being posted on the message boards themselves. I would ask that you please not read further if you have not participated in the project. Thank you.

Introduction
The FaithWriters.com Message Boards
This world of ours is a changing world. Psychologically, it is increasingly smaller and yet larger at the same time. Nothing emphasizes this fact more than an internet community such as a message board. These communities are easy to find and easy to join. Their global nature, which allows interaction between people of different races and cultures, serves to shrink the globe on which we all live while heightening the distances between those who become close friends, but may never actually meet. Before the advent of such a community, it is much less likely that one person living on another continent would have known that his or her new friend exists, though it would have been possible. However, though these friends are now able to meet online via an internet community, they may never meet one another in a physical sense. This serves to heighten the distances between them in the psyche of each. The message boards at www.faithwriters.com are just such a place. It is a close knit community in many ways, yet it spans the globe.
The Project
During the fall semester of 2006, I began noticing that the FaithWriters.com community possessed cultural elements usually discussed in anthropological circles. Some of these were language, the use of facial expressions, (pictures on the message boards), and the use of other communication methods that were effective in conveying one’s message. I decided that I would like to learn more about this community from an anthropological perspective. I knew that there was a major research project coming up in the spring and I asked the professor if she would allow me to conduct my research on the FaithWriters.com message boards. I secured her permission and immediately began planning how I would go about the project. The message board community at FaithWriters.com has some important things to show anthropologists about communities on the internet. It presents important ideas about the presentation of self in a distance-based community as well as bringing up important issues about the ability of social beings to transcend special boundaries.
My Research
Research Methods
For this project, four methods were used: participant observation, interviews, survey questions, and background research. As part of the project, I moved around the message boards, reading and posting in forums I had previously not visited. I used the link that allows one to see the most recent community activity since his or her last login. This was done in order to get a better feel for the community, and to see if I could gain an understanding of why this community is thriving so well with no sign of losing ground.
I also conducted four interviews. Two of these were conducted in order to obtain a look at this community through its impact on the life of an individual member. The other interviews were conducted in order to obtain information about the community and the larger website, its history and the way the site is run.
The information needed for the research questions on which this project is based was obtained through the use of more specific questions. They would ordinarily have been written up in a survey, but for this project, I chose to post each question on the boards themselves. This method allowed those who wished to participate in the project to simply answer the questions without having to go through any preliminaries, other than reading the description of the project which I had also posted, prior to beginning.
Even with these three methods, I still required certain information. I needed facts about the history of the site, information about the origin of message boards as a communication medium, and information about the very popular writing contest that takes place on the FaithWriters site. This is a significant part of the culture on the message boards and therefore, it was necessary to provide an overview of the contest for project. All of this required a little bit of background research. All four of these methods played their own significant parts in making this project possible.
Accountability in Research
Accountability is very important in human research as is the protection of the people the anthropologist is studying. Because of this, several steps were taken to insure that I was accountable to my Faith Writers friends and that I protected their privacy. When this project was initially begun, it must be admitted that I was winging it. Several of the notices posted at the beginning of each project-related thread were not present. However, I became increasingly aware in the first weeks of the project, that it was necessary to make it abundantly clear that these threads were a part of a university project and that the information posted would be used by me. So, after several modifications the notices present throughout most of the term of study were formed. In addition, I posted notices at the end of most of the threads once again stating that they were a part of a project and that those who had participated unawares were free to delete their posts. I also wished to be open about the fact that I was observing the community. In order to do this, during most of my activities, I tried to make sure that I was logged into the message boards. I hoped that this would let other members know that I was most likely studying the goings on in the community at that time. For a while, this did not extend to the times when I was writing in my project journal or updating the log I was instructed to keep. However, as time passed, I became aware that I should be logged in at these times as well. So, for the duration of the project, unless I simply forgot, I was logged in to the message boards while doing project-related work.
In order to maintain the privacy of the participants, I decided to assign each user a number. This number, preceded by the word “User,” would be used in the endnotes and the bibliography to designate the community member whose information I wished to use, while maintaining their personal privacy. The notices on the project threads clearly stated that I would not use any identifying information other than a member’s country and/or gender in the project. Using this numbering system would insure that I could keep this promise. The only point at which I veered from this course was when writing the portion of the project chronicling the experiences of an individual member. At this time, the member was identified by a fictitious name which she herself chose, though in the endnotes and bibliography, she was referred to by the number she had been assigned. I hope that by these practices, I have adequately maintained accountability to the participants and protected their privacy.
The Culture and Its Context
The Internet
To understand the history of FaithWriters.com and the message board community found there, we must begin with a brief discussion of the history of the internet. For without the advent of the internet, message boards would not be in existence. In the 1960s, during the heat of the Cold War, a government agency linked with the military created a computer based communication system. It was designed because of its easily defendable location, on computers, technically nowhere.
An Early Internet Community
In the 1970s, two men, Efram Lipkin and Lee Felsenstein started an early form of the internet communities of today. It was called The Community Memory Project. The system became a place on the internet where one could gain and provide information, exchange views, and conduct commerce. Lee Felsenstein stated that he believed this project to be the first of its type. If he is correct, this project is the ancestor of communities like the message boards at FaithWriters.com.


The History of FaithWriters
“… It was one of those amazing God things,” as one of my interviewees recounted. In the year 1998, one American man became interested in the art of webpage layout. After he had learned a great deal about this art, he came up with the idea for a site on which most of the material was provided by its members. This type of site is known as a “user driven website.”
In the year 2,000, the site, FaithMania.com came into being as a site for Christian writers. FaithMania site members could submit articles they had written and a one of the staff would post them on the site. However, this could not last. The amount of articles being submitted simply grew too large for this way of doing things. Therefore, a new site was designed where the members themselves could post their articles. This was the site now known as FaithWriters.com, which came online in 2,001.
As the site grew, suggestions were made by members about how it could be an even better place. One of the suggestions was that FaithWriters should have a message board. In the year 2,002, the FaithWriters.com message boards began.
At the Present
The site known as FaithWriters.com continues to be a collection of resources designed with writers in mind. It offers, among many other things: writing classes that may be taken online, a section where members may post articles for sale or just to be read by others, and of course, the message boards. The resources offered on the site are the focus of many of the discussions that take place on the message boards.
A Cultural Ritual
One major link that the FaithWriters.com community has with other cultures is that it has its own set of rituals. One very important ritual related to its main interest, writing, is discussed here. This is known as the Writing Challenge. This is a contest that is held weekly. A topic is posted in the section of the site designated for the contest and contestants are to write a 150 to 750 word piece based on it. Members can post in different levels according to their particular writing skills. In each level, a contestant may win first, second or third place or they may get a prize for “highly commended.” Also, all entries to the contest are evaluated for the choice of the top ten overall. These “EDITOR’S CHOICE” entries are compiled four times a year and published as anthologies. All of the top-ten entries chosen during each year are automatically entered in a yearly contest for which there are three prizes. They are monetary: $200 for first, $100 for second, and $75 for third place.
To members of the website, the relevance of this ritual to my research is hardly in need of explanation. However, it is important to note that this contest is extremely popular on the site. One of the questions asked during my research asked where members of the community spend most of their time when visiting the site. The overwhelming majority of respondents mentioned the forum dedicated to the contest as a favorite place to browse.
The Culture’s Location
Yet another commonality this community shares with other cultures is that there is an actual way to find and contact members. The message board community at FaithWriters.com can be described as residing in a number of locations. In one sense, it can be said to be located anywhere and everywhere. This is because members are found all over the world. Essentially, a community’s members are what make up that community, rather than its geographic location.
The actual location of the community is simply stated as cyber space. As with many physical communities, there are several paths leading to the FaithWriters message boards. One can simply go to www.FaithWriters.com, log into his or her account, and click on the link entitled, “MESSAGEBOARDS.” The homepage for FaithWriters.com, which is found by doing an internet search, does not have a link to the message boards unless one first logs in. One might also bookmark the message boards’ main page if one wishes to bypass his or her main FaithWriters.com account. Finally, it is possible to use the Google search engine to find “Faith Writers message boards.” Put simply, the message boards at FaithWriters.com are located on the internet and members can be found just about anywhere on the globe.
Organization and Demographics
Textual Structure
In an online community, there must be a reconstruction of what we call space: the division of physical areas by walls and/or objects. The organization of an online community such as the FaithWriters.com message boards is constructed according to textual forms of organization rather than physical forms. This means that textual terms, such as “link” or “heading” must be used in place of terms such as “room” or entrance.
For example, rather than being located in a particular room, the various activities that take place on the message boards at FaithWriters.com are organized in areas designated by written categories. These are in turn separated into forums designated by narrower categories. Within each forum is a series of topics where the different discussions take place. The following is a look at some of the most important categories and forums found on the FaithWriters.com message boards.
As previously stated, the message boards at FaithWriters.com are organized according to specific, but broad categories. One is able to click on these broad categories in order to switch to another page which isolates a specific group of forums, rather than viewing the main index page that shows all of the forums at once. One must click on the forum names in order to view the topics posted there. This is because unlike the forums related to each category, the topics in each forum are not displayed on the main page of the message boards.
Categories and Forums
The categories found on the message boards at FaithWriters.com are broad organizational tools that can be used to divide the wide range of forums found on the main page. This can make browsing the message boards easier for those who are new to the community. It is easy to see when browsing through the broad categories that the site offers something for everyone. It is obvious that this populated by writers.
One way in which this is evident is the multitude of forums related to writing which are listed within two of the broader categories. The first category listed on the main page is labeled “General Discussion.” It contains several forums related to writing. As one scrolls down the page, there is a whole category dedicated to writing, simply labeled “Writing.”
There is also a category labeled “FaithWriters 500,” which is semi exclusive. Any member can view its contents and post in the topics, but one must be a member of the website’s paid service in order to participate in some of the activities discussed there or take advantage of some of the discounts listed.
“Neighbor to Neighbor,” one of the other categories found on the main page, contains a forum for particular countries and continents. For example, there is a forum for residents of the United States as well as one for those of Canada. However, for countries that are close together and are not likely to have as many residents representing them in the community, there is a forum where residents of several countries post. One example of this is the forum for all residents of the British Isles. Instead of having a forum set up for Scotland, Ireland, Wails, and England, all members from these countries post in one forum.
In this basic overview of the layout of the message boards at FaithWriters.com, it is important to note that it would be superfluous to make mention of every category and forum. Just a few more bear mentioning. In the category “General Discussion,” there is a forum labeled “Newby Nook.” The function of this forum is for those who have newly joined the message boards to make their introductions in order that they might be properly welcomed to the community. There is another forum under this category that is labeled “The Water Cooler.” This area is a place where anything goes. Members can talk about any subject whether it pertains to writing or not. The topics related to my project were posted in this category. In short, there is something in this community to suit all interests, especially writing.
Private Spaces
The final category on the main page is "Private Forums." This is a special area where forums exist to which only certain members have access. These forums are set up for a number of reasons. Any discussion that needs to be held between certain members in private may be set up as a private forum. Interestingly, some of these forums will appear on the index page only if the community member logged in is involved in the discussions held there.
Private forums are one area of the message boards that can be considered a sacred space. However, it is more accurate to call these forums private spaces. They are closed to the general population, though not for religious reasons.
Another area of the message boards that can be labeled private space is the area where members can view messages sent to them by other members. This system is somewhat equivalent to e-mail, but an e-mail address is not required for sending the message. In place of the e-mail address, one must enter the user name of the member to whom the message is being sent. The prohibition against viewing these messages extends also to the administrators of the site.
Semiprivate Space
The profile page set up for each member can be classified as semiprivate space. Other users are able to view a member's profile, but only the member and the site administrators can change the information on this page. A member that is logged into the site is able to see another members profile containing information about him or her that the member has the option to enter or not upon registration. However, only the member to whom the profile belongs and the site administrators are able to change such things as the member's password. The member can change any of this information at any time, including the optional information.


A Question of Gender
As of the time when this paper was written, the FaithWriters message board community comprised 1,835 members. I do not know and do not believe I can find out how many of these are women and how many are men. I do not believe this to be very important for the scope of this project. This is because the members of the community generally seem to be more interested in a member's identity as a writer than in his or her gender. An interest in another member’s gender is personal rather than communal. For example, I, as a member of the community, like to view posts by a particular member in order to look at that member's gender before deciding whether or not to make direct contact. However, this is my own preference rather than being one of the rules of the community.
Administrative Structure
In the interest of providing a full demographic look at the community, it is important to take a brief look at the administration of the message boards on FaithWriters. It should be noted in passing that there appear to be more women than men in administrative capacities. I shall not explore this fact further since it has little or no bearing on the findings of this project.
The administrative positions in this community are administrator and moderator. There are three administrators on the message boards. Their primary functions are to handle spammers’ accounts and to make overhauls on the message boards when necessary. In order to cut down on spamming problems, the registration process was changed so that a member must be approved by an administrator before he or she can make the first post. This allows the administrative staff to catch many spammers before they get the chance to post their first message. Also, when the occasion calls for it, an administrator will reconfigure part or all of the boards. For example, as it became apparent that there were people on the site from several countries who wished to converse about the goings on in their part of the world, the discussion forums for the different locations were started.
Two of the administrators are also moderators. These are people who keep a general lookout in the community. They have the ability to access the IP address of anyone who posts spam and are able to pass this information on to the administrators. However, this has not been a major part of the moderators’ duties since the anti-spam measures were taken. Now, the main duty of a moderator is to keep a lookout for anything that might arise, from a member’s not following the rules to member-initiated concerns.

Research on Members’ Posts
Post Layout
Throughout the project, I worked to find answers to two research questions. The first of these is: Why do members choose the particular appearance of their posts? In order to answer this question, I posted five topics asking specific questions related to the different components of posts on the message boards. If all requested information is provided during registration or thereafter, a post will contain: the member's user name, a picture of his or her avatar, a pencil showing an approximation of how many posts a member has written, the date on which the member joined the message boards, the exact total of the member's posts, the member's location, a signature that can contain more than a member's name, a link returning one to the top of the web page, a link to the member's message board profile, a link enabling other members to send private messages, a link to send an e-mail to the member, a link to view his or her website, and links to view contact information for the member's instant messenger accounts. Of course, some of these components are not controlled by the members, such as the link to one’s profile. However, many components of the posts are controlled by community members. My goal has been to get an idea of why members give or do not give out certain information and there-by choose the appearance of their posts.
The Avatar
I will begin with a discussion of why members choose their avatars. An avatar is a picture that accompanies each post. One reason that was common among respondents to the topic was that their particular avatars correlate with their user names. Another common reason among respondents was the choice of avatars that reflected part of who they are: their actions and their interests. For example, one user likes to put up monkey pictures. She says this is because they reflect the fact that she is fun-loving. Other, somewhat less common, reasons for avatar choice include: the avatar is a picture someone really likes for a particular reason, the avatar is a picture of the member, or that the avatar is connected to a special memory and/or pastime of the user.
A Question of Naming
Joining an online community presents members with an interesting opportunity. It is possible in a community like the FaithWriters.com message boards to become someone else. This is true to the extent that one is fee to call oneself by any name he or she chooses.
As a part of my research on the choice of post appearance, I enquired as to the reasons why members choose to call themselves by certain names. The most common reason among respondents was the choice of names that are some variation of the member’s actual name. For example, one user simply uses her given name. She says, "... it's easy to remember." Another common theme was the choice of user names that were not related to one's name, but related to other things in one's life. For example, one user combines an old nickname with his occupation because the two are connected. This example presents the anthropologist with the question: does this member’s name show us something about his self identity? Some other common reasons for choosing one’s name in this community are: the member’s name is a pen name or a variation of one, the member’s name reflects the interests and personality of the member and the member’s name is a reminder to pray for someone in particular. It is my view that the topic of naming in online communities is a potential area of further study.
Where?
Another interesting opportunity presented to members of online communities is the chance to remain relatively anonymous in terms of his or her physical location. My findings present some interesting questions in this area. I found that there were several ways that members of the FaithWriters.com message boards react to this choice this choice. Most respondents are not shy about sharing their location or at least pinning it down to the state in which they live. They choose not to let people get any closer than that. However, there were some respondents who stated that they were not as concerned about pinning their locations down to a more specific area. The interest this spectrum holds for the anthropologist is the extremely wide range of range of possibilities. In a community that is without physical location, where one would think location would not matter very much at all, why do many members choose to give out certain information?
Signing Off
Saying goodbye is an interesting phenomenon among human beings. I would venture to guess that every culture has some custom surrounding the parting of ways. The FaithWriters.com community poses no exception. As one nears the end of a posting on the message boards, one can view a member’s signature. This signature may or may not include a member’s name. A user is free to post whatever he or she wishes in this area of his or her posts.
The reasons for choosing one's signature are varied. Two main themes have surfaced, however. Many respondents stated that they prefer to write in their signatures quotes that are meaningful to them. The variety lies in the quotes and in the reasons why these quotes are meaningful. Two examples will illustrate. One user stated that the quotes that are in his signature are meant to convey the message that going along with everyone else is to deprive one of excitement. On the other hand, one user has a quote in her signature that is meant to speak to our lives. She really liked this message. Another commonality is that many signatures contain links to other sites with which the users are involved. For example, many signatures contain links to users' blogs. A difference which I found interesting is that one respondent likes to change her signature in order to write out a new quote. The quotes aren’t always necessarily impactful. Some of them are simply funny.
We see here that the culture has invented new ways of saying goodbye. The form is not prescribed. The field of anthropology could benefit greatly by examining these signatures more closely. More precisely, it would be beneficial to delve into the psychology behind their formation. This is something I attempted to do for all of these questions but on a much smaller scale.
Making Contact
Referring to the choice mention earlier of whether to give out one’s location to other members, we now look at the choice of whether to give out online contact information. Members are free to disclose their e-mail addresses, contact information for various instant messenger accounts, and/or a link to their website. There are several reasons why members choose or choose not to disclose this information. One reason why members choose to disclose information such as instant messenger contacts and/or e-mail is that they either invite or are willing to allow other members to contact them. Several of these members have stated that this has not caused any trouble with unwanted e-mail. Several users decide not to put out e-mail or contact information for instant messenger because of unwanted e-mail. However, some users in both categories have said that this information can be found through their websites in any event. This information brings up an interesting issue: that of trust. How far is a member of an online community willing to trust the virtual world while he or she attempts to establish lasting connections?
The Answer
To recapture the essence of our subject, we must again ask: why do members choose the particular appearance of their posts? Unfortunately, the answer is, on one level, “I don’t know.” On another level, the “it depends on the member.” Questions such as those discussed above are quite subjective in nature. However, as was also discussed above, they provide the anthropologist with some interesting material for study. Issues like those raised above: identity, trust, tt, are important components of the human psyche and human relationships. It is my hope that in the future, anthropologists will examine these issues in the context of online communities such as that found on FsithWriters.com more in depth.
Community Cohesion
Getting on Board
Another issue treated here is that of the community’s ability to remain intact. In this study, I have asked the question: what binds this community together? I began by asking people how they were introduced to the message boards. A number of themes have surfaced. Several members found the site and hence the boards through doing internet searches. Others found it through different websites. Finally, several members were referred to this community by friends and family. This shows a variety in the information found here is important in that it shows that this community is a prominent one. Similar to physical communities that make their mark on society by doing great things, the community on FaithWriters.com makes its mark by inspiring others. This causes its fame to rise, thus attracting attention, which in turn fosters new membership. A growing community is on that is more likely to remain afloat.
Popular Hangouts
It is common knowledge that spending time with one another has the potential of bringing us together. In the context of FaithWriters.com it is important to take a brief look at where community members spend most of their time. When I put this question to members of the FaithWriters.com message boards, an almost universal answer was the forum designated for the weekly writing contest held on FaithWriters.com. Many enjoy this forum for the fun that can be had and for the opportunity to become better writers. Next in rank is the anything goes forum discussed above, for its lively discussions and variety of topics. Aside from these almost universally popular forums are the Prayer forum, Praise Reports forum, and several others that are less popular among respondents. Each of these forums gives members a reason to spend time with one another. This is true even though the time is truncated by the fact that members are generally not online at the same time. For example, one user commented that the forum for the contest “does a lot to build a sense of community.”
Togetherness
The cohesion of a community is always a topic of interest to the anthropologist. It is, in fact, the main premise of my second research question: what binds the members of this community together? It has also been the most difficult area of study throughout this entire course of study. However, I did find some interesting ideas presented by members of the community as to what exactly keeps this community functioning as a cohesive group.
During the course of study, I asked members of the community to express why they thought the message boards at FaithWriters.com remained a cohesive entity. I also asked members why they themselves continue to participate in community activities. A number of reasons were given, but an overwhelming majority of members commented on a sense of fictive kinship. This is an interesting phenomenon in a community that defies normal conventions of time and space. One might ask: how does this happen? This paper does not allow for an in depth study of this question. However, the point of interest for the anthropologist is that humans have the capacity to form fictive kin ties despite apparent obstacles such as a lack of physical closeness.
The Answer
Our question still remains: what binds the members of this community together? Again the answer comes on several different levels. On one level, it is not possible to come up with a conclusive answer, due to the subjective nature of the question. There are a myriad number of things that hold a community such as the FaithWriters.com message boards together in a cohesive whole. On a second level, there is an answer which lies within the human psyche. It has been proven throughout history that the human is adaptable to circumstance. When a circumstance like the internet arises, the human’s natural ability to adapt makes it possible for him or her to make the change from a need for physical closeness to using the written work as a supplement. Therefore, the answer to our question on this level is that humanity’s need for community has overcome its need for physical closeness, causing the formation and cohesion of cyber communities such as that found on FaithWriters.com. Finally, we must consider one more level of cohesion that is peculiar to Christian communities like that found on FaithWriters.com. This is the common bond that Christ brings to any community where He is the central figure. Several respondents to my question of what holds the FaithWriters community together mentioned Christ as an integral part of the cohesive nature of the community. On a personal lever, it is my view that Christ is the one and only reason this community holds together so well. His being at the center of the community supersedes any other reason for its cohesion that may come to mind.

A Personal Note
An Individual’s View
The message board community on FaithWriters.com is not simply a place where people can get together and talk without making real connections. It is quite evident that such could never be the case. As an example, I interviewed a member of the community to ask about her background and the impact that FaithWriters.com has had on her life. For the purposes of writing this analysis, I have used a fictional name for the member that she herself chose. The following analysis is a look at the message board community through the eyes of an individual member of the community.
Early Life
When Amanda was born, she made the third of three daughters. Like any life in this world, hers would be one of trial and hope; at times one of more than the other. Her parents chose to home school her and their other two daughters, though the two older girls each attended one year of private schooling during the course of their education. At a very young age, this user was quite creative. She would come up with a story and then her mother would write it down for her. She loved playing outdoors with creatures usually found out there, like frogs. She also enjoyed raising Angora rabbits with her sisters. Amanda liked more than the outdoors. She might also be found playing tea-party with some of her friends.
When Amanda started school, her problems began in earnest. It was discovered that she had trouble learning to read. This problem was mostly overcome with Amanda’s new reading glasses, but spelling was still a big challenge. At the age of ten, she began receiving vision therapy, which, along with her mother’s help, allowed Amanda to make major progress in this area as well.
During her schooling, Amanda’s writing ability was greatly developed. She remembers: “Before the vision therapy, I had a lot of trouble with the process of getting my stories down on paper. Mom would work and work with me to just write one sentence, until we gradually worked up to the place where she was saying, ‘I said write one page, Amanda, not five.’”
One fond memory Amanda has of writing during her school days is of a story she wrote for an assignment on personification. The story was about some marbles and their night-time escapades. She says that the story fit her personality as she was quite easily entertained. Many stories Amanda wrote were about a set of twins, herself and an identical twin sister.
Challenges and Gifts
Amanda and her family faced new obstacles during and after she finished high school. Her mom grew very ill and Amanda’s own health declined. Now, she looked after her mother, her own health, and worked in the business her parents still run out of their home. Still, Amanda found the time to write some short stories set in Biblical days. Her friends and family told Amanda that she was gifted at writing.
In the year of 2003, Amanda’s poor health demanded that she keep her mind off of things by finding another outlet for her energy than concentrating on her problems. She discovered a message board that discussed a television show that she really liked. The television show was canceled eventually, which was a blow to the fans on the forum. So, the group decided to write what is called fan fiction. Fan fiction is when fans of a particular piece of writing, something on television, or a movie write their own plots using the characters. The television show for which this group wrote was called Doc. Amanda greatly enjoyed writing the fan fiction and received a lot of positive feed-back from the other members of the forum.
A New Place
Then she found FaithWriters.com while looking for a Christian outlet for her writing gift. She liked the look of the site, but was worried about the possibility of being forgotten among all of the other writers. However, a few days after her initial look at the site, Amanda joined. She was very happy with the feed-back she received on the writings she submitted to the site.
Almost right away, Amanda joined the writing challenge. Her first submission to the contest placed second over all and first in her level. Amanda was surprised and delighted by this as she recounts: “I’d been told by friends and family that I was a good writer. But here were other skilled writers telling me I was good. That was a whole different ballpark.” The weekly contest impacted Amanda’s writing in a very significant way. She recounts that it was very difficult to finish a given project. She says that before the challenge, she would begin a project, then get a new idea and switch over to it, but the challenge changed all that.
Amanda is an active participant in the message boards at FaithWriters. She is the second most frequent poster on the site. She considers the friends on the message boards to be like family. When asked what she means by family, Amanda said that the people at FaithWriters are all that a family is. They will let her know when she is off the mark, have fun with her, and give her a bad time on top of it all. Just as in a family, conflicts will arise, but these are usually quickly resolved. The people at FaithWriters have also aided Amanda in improving her writing. One way in which this is so is that she has been able to be published a number of times both in connection with the website and because of contacts made through the site.
This, as well as her relationships with the members are not just maintained through the message boards, however. Now, the telephone, e-mail, and instant messenger are major factors in maintaining these connections.

Some Thoughts
The interview with Amanda is just one example of the experiences of a member of this community. Each member has his or her own story. However, Amanda’s story gives the anthropologist a clue as to how impactful an internet community can be on a person. Ethnographers would benefit greatly from studying these communities more often. They reveal new depths to the human’s ability to create and sustain relationships. The phenomenon of maintaining relationships primarily through the written word is one that should be explored more thoroughly.
Conclusion
My Thoughts on the Project
This project has been very interesting on a number of levels. I have been very interested to learn about the amount of research that has been done with online communities. The selection of topics, though relatively small, is surprisingly large considering the young age of the internet itself. I have also been deeply interested in the concept of doing ethnography online. The surprising thing is: online communities can be researched in much the same way as a physical community. The difference lies in the exact methodology. For example, interviews are still possible and a highly valuable component of the research. However, the dynamics change slightly. It is much easier to interview someone who lives a great distance away, using instant messenger programs, e-mail, etc. This does not eliminate the possibility of phone or face-to-face interviews, but the range of possibilities is greatly widened for online research.

In addition to my enjoyment of the research from an anthropological perspective, I took great delight in how much I was able to learn about my friends in the community. It is my hope that those who participated in the project as well as others who browsed through the topics were able to benefit in the same way. I feel closer to them now than I did before this research started. I think that with time, this closeness would have been achieved in any case, but I believe that this research has served to accelerate the process considerably. So here's to a grand time in research.

Endnotes

User 61, April 13, 2007, private message, (accessed April 18, 2007).
J. Hartley, Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: the Key Concepts, (London: Routledge, 2002), 122, quoted in “Virtual Communities” Main Page – M/Cyclopedia of New Media, October, 2005, Http://wiki.media-culture.org.au/index.php/Virtual_Communities#See_Also: (Accessed April 18, 2007).

Bernard Aboba, “How Community memory Came to Be, Part 1,” Internet, http://oldeee.see.ed.ac.uk/online/internaut/internaut-01/comm.html (accessed April 19, 2007).
User 57, instant messenger interview by author, March 30, 2007.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid. and “The History of FaithWriters.com. About FaithWriters.com,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/corp-history.html (accessed April 18, 2007).

User 57 and “History of FaithWriters.com.”

“History of FaithWriters.com,” and “FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/index.php (accessed April 18, 2007).

“Faithwriters.com :: Index,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, 2005, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/index.php?sid=0f13c96b79e4b8ed44d79d726983d2d44 (accessed April 19, 2007).

“Writing Challenge Instructions,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/challenge-how-works.html (accessed April 18, 2007).

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid.

“FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, hanging out.” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=9595&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed February 22, 2007), 1-4.

”History of FaithWriters.com.”

“FaithWriters.com,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian Writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, faithwriters.com/myaccount/myaccount-main.php (accessed April 18, 2007).

“The home for the christian writer.”

User 57.

“History of FaithWriters.com.”

User 57.

Ibid.

“FaithWriters.com :: Index.”

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid. and "Help Keep the Dream Alive," FaithWriters-The home for the christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/fw-500-more.html
(accessed February 6, 2007).

“FaithWriters.com :: Index.”

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid.

User 2, instant messenger interview by author, January 31, 2007.

"FaithWriters.com :: Index."

Ibid. and User 57.

“FaithWriters.com :: Send private message,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/privmsg.php?mode=post&u=74 (accessed April 19, 2007).

User 2, January 31, 2007 and User 57.

User 57.

“FaithWriters.com :: Index.”

User 57.

Ibid.

Ibid and User 2.

User 2.

Ibid. and User 57.

User 2.

“FaithWriters.com :: Edit your profile,” FaithWriters.com-The Home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, 2005, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/profile.php?mode=editprofile (accessed April 19, 2007).

"FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, avatar," FaithWriters.com-The home for the christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=131924#131924 (accessed April 16, 2007), 1-4.

Ibid., 1-5.

User 20, "FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, avatar," January 28, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=9662&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15 (accessed April 19, 2007).

"Faithwriters project, avatar," 1-2.

"FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, user name." FaithWriters.com-The home for the christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?9816&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed April 28, 2007), 1-4.

User 6, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, user name." January 28, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php? t=9816&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15&sid=e32a1d758e294d9580c1e5851dc58914 (accessed April 18, 2007).

"Faithwriters project, user name." 1-4.

User 17, "FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, user name." January 28, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php? t=9816&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15&sid=e32a1d758e294d9580c1e5851dc58914 (accessed April 18, 2007).

"Faithwriters project, user name." 1-4.

"FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, location." FaithWriters.com-The home for the christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=10289&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed April 16, 2007), 1-3.

Ibid., 1-2.

"FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, signature." FaithWriters.com-The home for the christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=133743#133743 (accessed April 19, 2007), 1-3.

User 13, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic – Faithwriters project, signature,” January 18, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=133743#133743 (accessed April 19, 2007).

User 14, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic – Faithwriters project, signature,” January 19, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=133743#133743 (accessed April 19, 2007).

“Faithwriters project, signature,” 1-4.

User 4, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, signature.” January 18, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtop.php?t=9817&postdays=&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed April 19, 2007).

“FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, profile.” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=139131#139131 (accessed February 22, 2007), 1-2.

Ibid., 1.

Ibid., 1-2.

“FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, getting involved,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=9594&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed April 16, 2007), 1-3.

Ibid., 1 and 3.

Ibid., 1-2.

“Faithwriters project, hanging out,” 1-4.

User 49, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic – Faithwriters project, sticking together,” March 23, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=148272 (accessed April 19, 2007).

“FaithWriters.com :: View topic – FaithWriters project, sticking around,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=12090 (accessed April 16, 2007), 1-3 and “FaithWriters.com :: View topic – Faithwriters project, sticking together,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community, http://www.faithwriters.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=10932 (accessed April 19, 2007), 1.

“Faithwriters project, sticking around,” 123 and “Faithwriters project, sticking together.,” 1=2.

“Faithwriters project, sticking together,” 1=2.

User 4, instant messenger interview by author, March 17, 2007.

Ibid and User 4, instant messenger interview by author, March 19, 2007.

User 4, March 17, 2007.

Ibid.

. Ibid. and User 4, March 21, 2007, personal e-mail message, (accessed April 16, 2007).

User 4, March 17, 2007.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid. and User 4, March 19, 2007.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Ibid. And User 4, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic-Faithwriters project, getting involved,” January 7, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=9594&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed March 22, 2007).

User 4, March 17, 2007.

Ibid and User 4, March 19, 2007.

User 4, March 17, 2007.

Ibid. and User 4, March 21, 2007.

User 4, March 17, 2007.

Ibid., User 4, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic-Faithwriters project, sticking around,” February 7, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=12090 (accessed April 16, 2007), and User 4, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic-Faithwriters project, sticking together.” March 12, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=10932 (accessed April 16, 2007).

User 4, March 17, 2007.

Ibid. and User 4, March 21, 2007.

User 4, March 17, 2007.


Bibliography

Books

Hartley, J. Communication, Cultural and Media Studies: the Key Concepts. London: Routledge, 2002. 122, quoted in “Virtual Communities.” Main Page – M/Cyclopedia of New Media. October, 2005. Http://wiki.media-culture.org.au/index.php/Virtual_Communities#See_Also: (accessed April 18, 2007).

E-Mails and Private Messages

User 4. March 21, 2007. personal e-mail message. (accessed April 16, 2007).

User 61. (accessed April 13, 2007). private message.

Interviews

User 2, instant messenger interview by author. January 31, 2007

User 4. instant messenger interview by author. March 17, 2007.

User 4. instant messenger interview by author. March 19, 2007.

User 57, instant messenger interview by author. March 30, 2007.

Member posts

User 4. “FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, signature.” January 18, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtop.php?t=9817&postdays=&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed April 19, 2007).

User 4. “FaithWriters.com :: View topic-Faithwriters project, getting involved.” January 7, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=9594&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed March 22, 2007).

User 4. “FaithWriters.com :: View topic-Faithwriters project, sticking around,” February 7, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=12090 (accessed April 16, 2007).

User 4. “FaithWriters.com :: View topic-Faithwriters project, sticking together.” March 12, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=10932 (accessed April 16, 2007).

User 6, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, user name." January 28, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php? t=9816&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15&sid=e32a1d758e294d9580c1e5851dc58914 (accessed April 18, 2007).

User 13, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic – Faithwriters project, signature,” January 18, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=133743#133743 (accessed April 19, 2007).

User 14, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic – Faithwriters project, signature,” January 19, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=133743#133743 (accessed April 19, 2007).


User 17, "FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, user name." January 28, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php? t=9816&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15&sid=e32a1d758e294d9580c1e5851dc58914 (accessed April 18, 2007).

User 49, “FaithWriters.com :: View topic – Faithwriters project, sticking together,” March 23, 2007, http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=148272 (accessed April 19, 2007).

Online Sources

Aboba, Bernard. “How Community memory Came to Be, Part 1,” Internaut, http://oldeee.see.ed.ac.uk/online/internaut/internaut-01/comm.html (accessed April 19, 2007).

FaithWriters.com :: Edit your profile,” FaithWriters.com-The Home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. 2005. http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/profile.php?mode=editprofile (accessed April 19, 2007).

FaithWriters.com,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian Writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. 2005. http://www.faithwriters.com/myaccount/myaccount-main.php (accessed April 18, 2007).

“FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community.” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/index.php (accessed April 18, 2007).

Faithwriters.com :: Index,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. 2005 http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/index.php?sid=0f13c96b79e4b8ed44d79d726983d2d44 (accessed April 19, 2007).

"Help Keep the Dream Alive," FaithWriters-The home for the christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/fw-500-more.html (accessed February 6, 2007).

“The History of FaithWriters.com. About FaithWriters.com,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/corp-history.html (accessed April 18, 2007).

“FaithWriters.com :: Send private message,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/privmsg.php?mode=post&u=74 (accessed April 19, 2007).

“Writing Challenge Instructions,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/challenge-how-works.html (accessed April 18, 2007).

Topics

"FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, avatar." FaithWriters.com-The home for the christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=131924#131924 (accessed April 16, 2007).

“FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, getting involved.” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=9594&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed April 16, 2007).

“FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, hanging out.” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=9595&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed February 22, 2007).

"FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, location." FaithWriters.com-The home for the christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=10289&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed April 16, 2007).

“FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, profile.” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=139131#139131 (accessed February 22, 2007).

"FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, signature." FaithWriters.com-The home for the christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=133743#133743 (accessed April 19, 2007).

“FaithWriters.com :: View topic – FaithWriters project, sticking around,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=12090 (accessed April 16, 2007).

“FaithWriters.com :: View topic – Faithwriters project, sticking together,” FaithWriters.com-The home for the Christian writer featuring Christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=10932 (accessed April 19, 2007).

"FaithWriters.com :: View topic - Faithwriters project, user name." FaithWriters.com-The home for the christian writer featuring christian poem and freelance writing plus writer forum community. http://www.faithwriters.com/Boards/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?9816&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0 (accessed April 18, 2007).






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Member Comments
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Amy Michelle Wiley  15 Apr 2007
This looks great! I'm so glad you decided to study FW. I'm curious to see if more studies are done for cyber communities in the future.




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