In today's Internet lives, online communities have become a medium of exchange of information or general chatting and keeping up with friends. Whatever is your area of interest, you are most likely to be part of some online community. But how do you protect your privacy in this very open environment? This article aims in telling you just that.

One of the most important things you need to do before start using a community is to read its Privacy policies. This will give you a general idea about how much information you need to revel to the site and other privacy options available to you. You should also read the 'terms and conditions' of using the site which essentially tells you the policy of the community .If you find somebody who is breaking the community rules you can complain of them and they can be suspended or blocked from using the site. Once you are satisfied with these basic criteria you are ready to sign up for the site.

Most of the online communities require your full name and email address for creating your user account. If it is a social networking site it might even ask you to create your profile with many personal details like your date of birth, relationship status, home or office address and phone numbers. First of all, if you are uncomfortable in giving these details in an open forum where others can come and view, don't fill up these columns as most of them are optional anyway. In case you want to be selective while giving these details, you can also use the privacy settings provided by your networking site and customize your settings as per your preference .You can also choose to protect your photos and videos from general view by selecting the appropriate settings from them.

There are other facilities given by most of the online communities to make you feel safe online. In most of networking sites you can block your profile from the general profile search of the site or you can reject the friend request of the person you don’t want to talk to. You can even block a person from sending private messages to you. You can also create a private community with your friends.

Always leave your email id after lots of thoughts in an online community .These email ids in a public forum are a blessing for the spammers. They just take these email-ids and bombard your mailbox with spam mails.

What are online communities? An Online community is nothing but a group of likeminded people who decide to interact virtually through internet on some common subject. The strength of this group can vary from two to thousands of people and the subject of interest can be just anything. They can either form a group to discuss cooking recipe or may share their experiences related to a common disease or rather express their opinion about a recent event they strongly feel about. The tools of online communities can be mailing lists or newsgroups or Web conferencing platforms.

These online communities are not formal structures and the strength of these can vary as any member can decide to draw back his membership at any point of time. The members also do not have any liability to actively participate in day to day activities of the community as these people are from diverse background and may or may not have ever met each other in their lifetime. An example of online community could be employees of an organization, forming a mail group over the intranet provided by their organization.

The concept of online communities evolved through the proliferation of internet resulting in likeminded people assembling virtually to share their anecdotes. The initial Online communities were TheGlobe.com, GeoCities and TheGlobe.com , GeoCities and Tripod .Later on Yahoo groups ,Google group ,lotus connections took this idea to next level . Recently with the wide spread use of Web 2.0 technologies Orkut, MySpace and HiFive have emerged as big tools of the online communities. Blogging is also a variant of online community pedestal.

The reasons behind the formation of online communities are many. The primary one being the benefit of large sample of society through formation of a common pool of knowledge regarding a subject. The second but equally important reason being happiness one gets in sharing an anecdote with other likeminded people who are spread all over the world ,who can further enrich the experience through their insight. The third reason is that the online community provides a platform for the expression of though related to a sensitive topic, as people can share their opinion about anything without giving out their personal information.

Online Community has its own peculiar glossary of terms. The membership can be categorized as Peripheral, inbound, outbound, insider or boundary depending upon the pattern of participation by an individual in day to day activities of community.