Communicating online and building relationships

Right after returning from FOSDEM I stumbled upon the IndieWeb Carnival, something I hadn’t heard of before, thanks to Ben Werdmuller. The whole concept sounded like a nice idea to get slightly more diverse topics onto this blog and so I decided to join in with this month’s topic of “Digital Relationships” hosted by Manu!

When I first joined the web around 1999 and then for real in 2001, I got very interested in web forums. This kind of asynchronous communication with a semi-wide group of people just worked for me. It was not as frantic as IRC and not as slow and closed off like usenet or mailing lists. When the interface does not look like a chat window, it automatically makes me think a bit more about what I’m writing. This eventually led me down the blogging path but tools like web forums (YaBB and phpBB in the early days for me) and in the work-context issue trackers code-review tools still offer a nice middle-ground to me between quick and thoughtful interactions.

Some people might say that this is not a good way to interact with other people or to build relationships but as with pretty much anything, your milage will vary. While lots of people seem to be able to build connections through large chats, for me forums just allowed me think a bit more about what the person I was talking to actually meant.

Social media platforms like Twitter, Mastodon, or Bluesky feel like something that is somewhere between web forums and chats. I have some mixed feeling about them in general especially when it comes to directly interacting with people there, but they are useful for sharing ideas quickly, even with larger groups. Depending on how many participate there are, though, discussions can become even more hectic than in mid-sized chats. So even here: Small groups make things more consumable for me (I guess that’s why more popular folks have their own social media teams to not go crazy πŸ€ͺ).

No matter the medium, though, it feels like I’ve been able to build relationships mostly depending on the amount of interaction I have with certain people. If I talk with someone more often, I tend to build a connection with them. The problem is often more to actually recognise someone again. Early chats only had usernames but with web forums and pretty much everything later there are more visual cues who I’m talking with!

Just to give an example for that: Some time ago in a larger group chat people started changing their avatars because they had all been at an event with a photo-booth. All of a sudden it felt like people didn’t know who they were talking with anymore and so - a day later - nearly everyone reverted to their old profile picture 🀣

No matter the tool, though, what is still fascinating to me after all these years is that I can just open a piece of software and just start interacting with people from half-way across the planet and learning from their experience. Even if all I know of these people is their pseudonym and a funny avatar…

I’m just glad that it’s no longer billed as remote call like in one of my all-time favorite entries:

docsigma2000: jesus christ man
docsigma2000: my son is sooooooo dead
c8info: Why?
docsigma2000: hes been looking at internet web sites in fucking EUROPE.
docsigma2000: our fucking phone bill is gonna be nuts
c8info: Ooh, this is bad. Surfing long distance adds an extra $69.99 to your bill per hour.
docsigma2000: …!!!!!! FUCK FUCK FUCK
docsigma2000: is there some plan we can sign up for???
docsigma2000: cuz theres some cool stuff in europe, but i dun wanna pauy that much
c8info: Sorry, no. There is no plan. you’ll have to live with it.
docsigma2000: o well, i ccan live without europe intenet sites.
docsigma2000: but till i figure out how to block it hes sooooo dead
c8info: By the way, I’m from Europe, your chatting long distance.
** docsigma2000 has quit (Connection reset by peer)