Since the rise of social media, the importance of websites having a communal identity has continued to grow in significance and relevance. No longer is it enough that a site simply engages the individual, now it is expected that we all want to share our online experiences with others, whether through our interaction with the website itself or through the content on the platform. While it is true that nowadays everything can be reviewed, commented and shared, there are some emerging online communities that continue to break new ground. These new websites are not only breaking the mold in terms of their collective experience but by design manage to encourage the most natural interaction with their users. Where they succeed is that they most successfully manage to make the user feel a part of something! The 5 below, although very different in nature, are my pick of what I believe to be the Top 5 Emerging Online communities of 2012.

Cowbird

The purpose of cowbird is to preserve the art of storytelling through one’s self reflection. It’s like twitter in that it’s personal to you but unlike twitter there is no character limit. It’s less about the social aspect; rather, it’s more about the story. Think of it as an online diary but one in which you can talk about anything in your life, if you’re looking for @’s and re-tweets prepare to be disappointed. Content is key and thoughts about real life are the norm here, it’s all about the personal emotions and connections we make as living people. The thought process behind this archive of stories is the idea that they can be entwined together into a single collective story, that is, the story of humanity. The site prides itself on being free from advertising and users are encouraged to build upon the stories of others in a network filled with creative types. We’re talking journalists, travellers, film makers and the like. You can also dedicate stories for others and take on the role of ‘characters’, to make your stories all the more interesting as well as contributing to cowbirds communal spirit. It even goes so far as to allow you to insert audio, in which to make your story all the more compelling. This site is a real throw back, to an age before the internet and ‘status updates’. Part of its charm is that individual, personal content is its key selling point and that it remains advert free.

So.cl

Even with all of Google’s efforts to make search as sociable as possible, it is still clearly lacking. This is where So.cl comes in; it’s an ingenious tool that helps you discover likeminded people through the power of search. Taking ideas from Facebook and to a lesser extent twitter, the idea is that it will help you develop new interests as well as sharing your interests with those who already have your passion for the topic. Similar to Facebook’s share buttons So.cl’s bookmark toolbar allows you to share your favourite searches and sites with other users. With its “Riff” feature, So.cl truly is a new way for users to interact with content as you are technically flagging it up for the rest of users to see. An innovative idea with the only real downside being that you’re restricted by which search browser you use as it only works using Bing. Is the browser for the future? Perhaps not, however, some of the idea it touches upon are extremely interesting, such its video share function and it’s certainly be garnering a fair bit of attention online. To what extent will social be part of the future of search? With all the efforts Google and Microsoft are putting into this social aspect, they clearly seem to think it’s of the highest importance. To this end, the social elements of search will continue to develop over the coming months and across all search platforms.

Gentlemen mint

Currently still in the Beta stage, this online community specializes in all things manly. Heralded as a pinterest for men, it’s a great place for mainly male users to add and share cool and interesting stuff from across the web. This community experience is not topic specific and anything from clothing to recent news, even jokes can be found here. Updated by its many users, each visit proves to be a new and thought provoking experience. It’s up to the user to get what they want out of it and is a great example of how websites are increasingly turning to the user to come up with new and exciting content. The joy lies in its simplicity, anyone can join and anyone can share, as long as it’s interesting and to a lesser extent…‘manly’.

MyFamilyClub

MyFamilyClub is a growing community for mums, which helps them save money in their daily lives. Focusing on discounts galore and money saving tips, this is a community site for parents. Not just concerned with saving families money, MyFamilyClub also specializes in parenting tips, activity and recipe ideas as well as all manner of family related advice and news. The combination of discount vouchers and codes with real relatable advice highlights the new way in which websites are valuing their users. It’s no longer enough to simply provide deals and discounts but it is also necessary to engage with the user on a personal level. This is clearly the future with websites now expected to take a multi-faceted attitude to user interaction. It can no longer be enough to provide one service and it is clear that users are beginning to expect much more.

Foodie

Another online community still in the beta stage, foodie is tipped for big things. As a social network for food lovers, it’s a great place to share recipe tips as well as getting recipe knowledge from some of the top chefs in the world. Using your facebook or twitter to login, you are invited to share your tastes and preferences and what you are looking for from the site. This can be anything from quick meals to healthy meals, even wines and spirits if it takes your fancy. This site combines many of the successful practices of other social media platforms to deliver a very well rounded user experience. Using your own preferences as well as interactions with the site to send you regular recipe updates, foodie is an example of a community site that continues to develop through the collaboration of its users just as much as through ones interaction with the website itself.