One of the projects I immediately started when I got into the web back in 1999 was the online community. At first, inspired by the phenomenon of webrings and encouraged by the many free web services that facilitated it, I had the idea of encouraging students and teachers to take advantage of the freehosting services on the web and create a homepage of their own with at least a section about their school life at San Agustin (that is, University of San Agustin) and/or one on St. Augustine. The idea did not progress however since to create a series of webpages localized in a webserver, one had to have some idea of HTML or some inkling as to how manipulate the diverse kinds of WYSIWYGs then being offered for free.
About the year 2000, I got interested in CGI-powered CMS. The Coranto (NewsPro) community of users and programmers was my first online community. This was no longer just a group of website owners exchanging links and driving traffic to one’s site (as were the webring communities), there at Coranto one found a community of programmers and users helping each other make use of a “product” In other words, this was a community centred on something else other than itself. Its center of focus was a newsposting software and it was the occassion for different people coming from different parts of the world to exchange ideas, teach one another and help one another make full use of a CMS that at the time was considered one of the better ones. (Just “better” since it can only manage 8.+ rating at the CGI Resource Index.
The Coranto community so inspired that I decided to put up a forum at AgustinongPinoy hoping to encourage people to discuss and share their faith with others on the web. Again, the experiment was a failure. One of the questions I began to ask then was “How come people can get enthusiastic about a free downloadable software but it is difficult to gather people around Christ, the Church and the Christian faith?” About that time, I also discovered the forums at RC.Net where “RC” stands for “Roman Catholic”. The website is on a server in the US, I think and it was buzzing with activity. So I began to think “Is this kind of community possible only in the US?”
After these two failures I began to form the conviction that it is enough to have a computer and internet connection to build an online Christian community. There must also be “offline” grounds of common interest. Obviously those forum communities at RC.Net had a grounding in offline ones. This is obvious in one of the University web forums built around the life and works of St. Augustine. Would it be possible to create one among my students of theology? Alas, even among my students at the Colegio de San Agustin-Bacolod such an online community did not materialize. The internet facilities then were used not really for studies but for socialization and entertainment: chats, greeting card sending and network games. The only people I think who were able to use the internet well in those years between 2002-4 were the St. Augustine Scholarship contestants from the high school (during those years they were consistent in winning the contest). An online community never materialized.
Perhaps an online community like the one I encountered at the Coranto website is possible only among the intelligent and the serious web enthusiast? Or perhaps it is possible only among those who have become so enthusiastic about a common interest that they’d talk about it and discuss it anywhere — even in an online forum — whether intelligently or not? For Filipino Catholics or Augustinians, what common interest would they have among themselves that they’d talk about it (or post about it) anywhere?
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