Computer based "Peer-to-Peer" communities technically existed way before the actual internet al la BBS's. Back in those crazy 80's we had Bulletin Board Systems, which at their peak numbered in the tens of thousands, before the internet became a thing. Just in case you're unfamiliar, a BBS was some smart kid (sys-op) in your neighborhood with a modem connected to a computer which was left on all day - an OG sever. If you were lucky enough to get access to a BBS you were officially in. This was the ol' telephone days when long distance charges applied so most of the time you accessed your local Board creatively named something like Octopus Garden, Spock's Adventure or something really crazy like The Edge. While a lot of BBS's were simply chat boards, think real conspiracy theory weirdo's to chess clubs that couldn't meet due to weather, there were a handful that actually concerned a 12 year kid - video game share boards.
We kids didn't have money. My 25¢/hr allowance for picking weeds could never afford the new PC game at Egghead Software (real store name) I so badly wanted. So I'd struggle to make the connection but through a friend of a friend at the roller rink I'd get a converted phone number and login. When you got that info, your day came to a complete halt, you jammed home, you dialed in and you hoped to God the login was legit and sysop was in a good mood.
Once in, you could use simple key commands to browse a virtual library of warez; hacked and cracked digital goods spanning from the Anarchist Cookbook, Doom or even Leisure Suit Larry (see, you knew I'd get to it). It wasn't a grab and dash world, to download a game, you had to post a game first - it was a community. You couldn't just post the game files, the game had to be cracked so everyone could use it. The community depended on you adding value. Back then, each game had a code to unlock it before you could play it. If you uploaded an un-cracked game, you'd be labeled a "lamer" and booted for life.
These were true tech-munities. Beyond just stolen game downloads and nudie pictures, we could direct message each other, have full on shared community conversations, leave inbox messages and share our warez.
When the internet came around, it was like the comet that took out the dinosaur for BBS's. It is reported that there are still about 337 BBS's left in existence. Yet, the principal theory of the BBS became one of the foundations of the internet - connected users sharing information and goods.
BBS's ensured a digital community was the norm in the new internet landscape. The internet wasn't a resource we plugged into and were fed information to via Big Brother. While you may think this thought silly, it was one of the master intentions in the Dial-up infancy of the internet. You'd dial in, get redirected to a landing page, read the latest news and be on your way - a one way street controlled technology. We screwed that plan up by coming in as trained teenagers to chat, share, shit talk and disrupt.
Search caught like wildfire out of this disruption. Instead of being told info by AOL or Netscape landing pages, we searched. What we searched were indexed websites of community knowledge. We found websites created by individuals all over the world. Companies were sprinkled about in but it was mostly to post user manuals back then.
Sometimes we got a little too disruptive i.e. Napster, but we chilled out and started to have a little more fun.
Fast forward to the establishment of the "Social Media" - the complete coming out of the BBS "community" theory. A place to openly connect and share anything with anybody. MySpace and several other websites around the world were open digital communities. No secrecy, no logins, you could just cruise through anyone's digital backyard. While very little was being digitally shared, maybe jpg's and music files, the normalcy of digital communities was now set in stone. Interacting with strangers via the computer was thee way now.
If you could share pictures of unicorns and WAV files on a computer, why not share physical things? In comes the eBay's and Craigslist's - bridging the digital world into the physical via the absolute accepted normalcy of digital community interaction. Now we meet online first, then interact in person.
BBS's were the foundation for our confidence in interacting with other humans via a computer buffer. The evolution of this confidence now has us taking rides with strangers, staying in a strangers house while they are away, purchasing great tickets to events that a stranger couldn't use. In fact, the desire not to pay for that Leisure Suit Larry game has nearly erased the premise of a stranger all together.
The fact that we all walk around with virtual "Hitchhiker Guides" has turned us into a massive community on the move, freed from the static desktop location in our homes and offices. Mobile has connecting with each other at compounding speeds, speeds so fast that virtually anyone is now your neighbor. So neighbor, go out there and borrow some sugar.