I had always heard that internet communities were a great way to connect with people with whom you share a common bond, but I had never found the right one for me. Anytime I felt alone about a problem and went searching for other people who were going through the same thing, I often felt more left out after reading what I had found. I figured internet communities weren't all they were cracked up to be. But recently, I joined a forum site for one of my favorite authors and fanfiction.net to read about some of my favorite shows, I felt instantly connected to a lot of people. I knew that this must be the internet community that everyone was talking about - but why didn't I find it before? What made this time different?
People like all kind of communities, and there's not right or wrong type to join. But I think for me personally, I need to bond with people over something that we like rather than something that we don't like. On the internet anyway. The reason is because whenever I searched for a forum on, say, homesickness, there would always be some people posting invalidating comments in response to a question that I would have asked myself. Then a lot of responses would be like, "Hang in there, you'll get used to it," when I was in my fourth year of college and still not okay being away from home. I guess when I'm upset enough to go searching for support on the internet, I really don't want to see anything even the least bit unsupportive. But when I'm looking to talk about a favorite book or TV show, I don't care as much if someone didn't like it because I'm less emotionally attached, it's not as important for me to find exactly what I'm looking for, and there aren't as many negative comments on a fan site to begin with. People are just less prone to personal attacks and less likely to get their feelings hurt when they're talking about common interests rather than personal issues.
When it comes to bonding over disliking something, the reason that you dislike it matters (ex: someone who hates college because they're homesick is different from someone who hates college because their parents keep calling every five minutes.) But on a fan site, disagreements aren't as important as the common bond that we are all on the fan site, discussing our theories. Everyone doesn't share every interest with their friends or social circle, so when you enter this world of people who are as obsessed as you are about something, you can just feel a really strong bond with people you've never met.
Personal communities do function as support groups and help a lot of people - I've just realized that they're not for me. But when I find a ton of people talking about the book I just read, or writers posting fanfiction that I've actually imagined myself, I understand what my friends were saying about the internet community. I feel so connected.