Serious athletes of all levels consistently try to burry themselves in like-minded people. Internet conversations on message boards are very common today – connecting people from around the world. The amount of bodybuilding-related boards has grown exponentially with increasing Internet availability and more user-friendly software. A countless amount of new training and nutritional methods can be found online; for subsequent personal experimentation and shared results. By teaching others online, an athlete learns while substantiating their claims.
One of the most popular and widely known message board platforms is vBulletin. The vBulletin template-driven interface allows different topics dispersed over multiple forums, which can be further divided into different categories. It also allows administrative control over customizable plug-ins, private messages, post and user moderation and separated user groups. The strong back-end database can support infinite forums and posts.
According to Chris Willis and Shayne Bowman, authors of We Media, people contribute to online discussions for the following reasons:
- To gain status or build reputation in a given community
- To create connections with others who have similar interests, online and off
- Sense-making and understanding
- To inform and be informed
- To entertain and be entertained
- To create
These motives apply to the masses – they certainly apply to athletes online. There are literally thousands of online discussions targeted toward strength and endurance athletes, nutritional and fat-loss programs, as well as sites ran by industry professionals and proclaimed gurus. A fitness Web site’s community forum may stay online for years; success ultimately depends on financial support, proper administration and user participation. Member’s of these communities generally fall into the following user personalities:
Every new member enters this group by default. Although the name implies a fresh addition to a community, it does not mean they are new to bodybuilding or physiological discussions. New users join a Web forum to find other fitness enthusiasts and gain status within the community. What isn’t known initially is what status they will achieve. Newbies have the potential to transfer into any other online personality – good and bad. Internet reputation impacts online conversation; it determines how seriously forum veterans will accept subsequent postings. How one builds their early reputation can affect how seriously the group accepts them later.
Information farmers are easy to identify while they freely share information and nurture new ideas. They automatically gain positive community status by creating posts that seek to reach an understanding and become more informed. They create a helpful archive of online conversation. Bodybuilding discussions need more information farmers to help explore complex topics; such as human physiology and muscle mechanics. Further information regarding performance enhancing drugs in sport and exercise needs to be cultivated through shared experiences. Mainstream medicine abandoned the use of performance enhancing drugs when regulatory agencies put stronger restrictions on their use. Today, an underground steroid-using sub culture continues their research while sharing results with others – many are meeting online. Their posts are generally sincere and straightforward. Information farmers generally include: personal trainers, professional bodybuilders and medical experts.
Information regurgitators join a fitness community to belong and create. They find information to fulfill a need for virtual acceptance by copying and pasting. This behavior can become annoying when original authors do not get properly attributed for their contributions. It can also be destructive when incorrect information becomes Internet gospel though mass regurgitation. This can easily cause health concerns when inaccurate information is passed on regarding nutritional and pharmaceutical ergogenics. When a user states a claim, ask for references or supporting data if it seems far-fetched, or even interesting. This will help separate the information farmers from the regurgitators; the latter will have a hard time validating the information.
Scammers are online and leaching onto the steroid buyer’s black market. Due to the wide-spread use, online bodybuilding discussions normally have an entirely separate category devoted to the use of performance enhancing drugs – some base the entire Web site’s community around their use. Since these drugs are illegal to obtain in most countries, or require a doctor’s prescription, countless flock to meet other users for a new or better source, through the Internet. This opens the flood doors for scammers, people interested in victimizing athletes. They create independent steroid laboratories and then package inaccurate or contaminated substances. Many gain trust over a long time, simply to develop a large client list. Then, they disappear with little known about whom they were or how to actually locate them; a frustrating predicament for the well-intentioned athlete who recently wired money. Sometimes a reputable black market label operates for years – and then through greed or some other contributing issue, they turn into a scammer. These are dangerous people. They put the community at risk, as well as the Web site’s integrity.
Spammers post with an agenda: to fill in conversation with useless advertising. Bodybuilding discussions inevitably find themselves getting littered with non-fitness related links – while many less obvious spammers simply lurk. They join a community to eventually place a link to their Web site or a paid affiliate’s site. Since they lack any constructive participation, many find themselves banned for trying to lure the community’s users. Most members find spammers annoying – as well as insulting. Most webmasters are aggravated by the drain spammers put on their Web site traffic.
Trolls are like a community parasite. They attach to online conversations to create chaos. They simply lack productive social skills. Who qualifies as a troll is subjective but a common understanding is how they infiltrate discussions with one purpose: contaminate it with useless or hateful comments. They will post derogatory messages about sensitive topics to bait users into responding. They may also resort to disturbing images to cause further confrontations. Some online discussion administrators allow trolls to have free reign, but a healthy community will enforce a “just be nice” policy to keep discussions productive. Enforcing such a policy is difficult unless a set of rules can clearly define how the Web site’s forum administrator defines “nice.” Each community has to evolve its own method for dealing with trolls. If left unattended, their behavior quickly creates a growing infestation.
These members post ridiculous stuff – no real benefit to a fitness community. They wish to entertain and be entertained – many times at another’s expense. These members are probably the fly-by self-proclaimed fitness gurus that lose interest quicker than they gained it. Since their posting habits have little merit, forum administrators must try to identify early signs of a drift into becoming a scammer or spammer before it’s too late. Community jesters can easily become trolls if their definition of “funny” is not a mutual understanding.
There are more ways to categorize the personalities registered within an online fitness community. Some people may start off well-intentioned only to become a community parasite – some may evolve into multiple personalities.
Today, the amount of information and personal experiences available online is astronomical, just be cautious of who you communicate with and remain aware of malignant behaviors.