There's a myth around that the "virtual world" is somehow a different place from the real world we all live in.
Interestingly, it's a myth found only among those who haven't tried out social media and social networks. Once you dip your toe in the online conversation, you find that blogs, Facebook, Twitter - and on and on - are all elaborations on (not replacements of) the art of one human relating to another.
And often, you'll find that there's a strong desire to cross borders. Take the phenomenon of Tweetups for example. People in a local area, united only by their use of the social networking platform Twitter. It's a tenuous link, but one that causes people to search for other things in common.
We had one in Auckland, New Zealand, the other day. "Organizing" it was just a matter of me saying "Do we have time for one last Twitter meetup for 2008? Or is that just crazy talk?"
Over the next few hours people came back, enthusiastic to squeeze in a meeting, even with the silly season in full swing. Someone nominated a venue, which everyone else voted on, and then I promoted the tweetup through a blog post and through our Facebook group.
Photo of me with a Twitter friend
at the Auckland Tweetup
We had 13 people come along - not a huge amount of people, but not a small group either, especially not in a crowded pub!
What is it that motivates people to share a few hours with almost total strangers? The technology's only a small part of the equation. A bigger factor is the "almost" total stranger part - some level of trust and relationship has built up, and, being human, most people want to explore further, to put faces to the names, thoughts and avatars they see on screen.
It used to be that you could say where a community started and ended. But online social networking is blurring those lines. Is our Auckland Twitter meetup a genuine community? Hard to say. We know each other on a fairly intimate level, since we relay some of our innermost thoughts in those 140 characters. Would we stick up for each other when the chips are down? I hope we don't have to find out, but I get the feeling there's great potential within groups like this.