The vast majority of online communities are anonymous. The word “anonymous” can trigger all types of reactions. On one extreme, you might have some lowlife bullying and threatening another person. On the other end, whistleblowers. Most of us live in the middle.

But these communities aren’t anonymous as much as they are “share what you want.” Frequently, people will share quite a bit. This is very common, especially in niche communities.

I manage a martial arts community and, in general, many of the members that stick around, and become invested in our community, are the same members who share a lot about themselves.

Hi, My Name is…

The first opportunity to identify yourself is through your username. In choosing that name, you can link yourself to other communities where you have participated – where you may have shared additional background info.

Beyond that, many people do opt to share their real name or a link to their website, their business’ website or their martial art school’s website. Those last two represent a geographic location where they can be found on many days. They offer email handles, links to social network profiles and instant messenger names. They post pictures. They talk about their jobs, their families and the places where they live.

These are all things that make them less anonymous – or not anonymous at all.

This is pretty common. While most communities – and most successful communities – don’t require people to share much more than a moniker and an email address, people by nature share of themselves when they feel comfortable enough to do so.


Of course, they can lie, and I’m sure some do. But mostly, it’s the truth. These types of lies can be harmful to the community, but usually are not. For every person who lies about committing suicide, there are countless more who lie about their age (and no one really cares). Impersonation isn’t common in the vast majority of communities, just because of how communities operate.

On a service like Twitter, where you have to opt-in to people and follow them, there is value in being a Bill Murray “parody” account. But on a community, where we have shared spaces and everyone sees the same thing, “BillMurray” is just another moniker. No one would think you were the actor and people would judge you based upon what you said. If you went around pretending to be Bill Murray, you’d get shut down. If not by the community, then by the staff.

People don’t just like on anonymous communities, though. They also lie on communities where people are required to identify themselves.

Anonymous Diversity

I feel like anonymity encourages an interesting type of diversity. The old (as in 1993) adage, “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” applies here. We really don’t know anything about you until you share it with us. We don’t know your age (except that you are 13 years and older, unless you lied to the registration form). We don’t know your gender. We don’t know your race. We don’t know where you live. We don’t know your political affiliation. We don’t know anything.

For this reason, people are almost always judged by what they contribute to the community. We don’t know them by much else. At least not at first.

The way people view them, positively or negatively, is tied to what they share. Our most respected contributors have spanned age groups, from teenagers to those in their 50s or even older, both men and women. We have respected members who have removed the veil of anonymity – and we have respected members who haven’t.

On an established community, many members connect with each other outside of the community, via instant messengers and social networks. They have Skype calls. They meet in person. They even get married. I have a small, close circle of friends. I met approximately half of them in the same large, anonymous community. I don’t just know them. I know their families. We hang out in person, and I trust them.

A funny thing happened on the way to an anonymous online community… people got to know one another.