Online Communities and… Cliques?

Discussion boards are an asynchronous computer-mediated communication, as participation on such forums follows a message-and-reply model for which users needn’t be in the same place at the same time in order to share ideas and opinions with one another. However, as several Bravo TV discussion boards host an upwards of 2,000+ comments, some posts get lost among the rest and, as a result, not all messages on this particular medium receive equal attention. While social hierarchies are not to blame for these disparities in visibility, hierarchies can be seen functioning in other ways across the forum.

Members of Bravo TV’s discussion board forum are most commonly and immediately identified by their frequency of participation – by participation “status” to the number of times posted. Participation statuses range from:  1) “just got here” –> “warming up,” 2) “cable-ready” –> “occasional viewer,” 3) “regular viewer” –> “loyal viewer,” 4) “televisual savant” –> “totally plugged in,” and 5) “bravo afficionado.” (I am now known as a “cable-ready” user with just over 40 posts and am yet to receive any replies to my posts.) These titles are, in effect, “awarded” to users as their participation on the forum increases, with the highest “prize” being the “bravo afficionado” label.  Users with the most prominent “statuses” typically dominate these discussion boards and monopolize the conversation had across them. In some ways, their comments are valued more than are posts by users with less prominent statuses, a “loyal viewer” or “televisual savant” for example. These comments seem to be more respected as well, as they yield the most responses. However, these replies are usually written by other very avid users, and these prominent users are known to engage with each other quite frequently/regularly. Such behavior resembles that of a clique. The discussion board forum (i.e. an online community) essentially hosts a number of smaller communities, in which the “popular” people stick together and new or less active users are, more or less, deemed “outsiders.” Such “discrimination” carries potentially negative implications for members of Bravo TV’s discussion board forum who participate in the medium with the hopes of feeling connected.

For example, I have one friend on the Bravo TV discussion board site (whom added me and could do so without my acceptance), and perhaps this person associates a large amount of friends with feelings of connectedness (thus, he/she friended me without having chatted or exchanged messages with me before). The potentail lack of interaction between this user and others could also negatively affect that user’s desire for or feeling of belonging.