I’ve been a Ubuntu Forums member for well over three years now. I am also now a moderator of the forums. For a while now, I think my wife has considered me a bit of a weirdo, as I’m constantly writing support to and getting support from all these people I’ve never met and probably will never meet in person.
But recently she’s joined up an online forum herself and realized that, yes, if you have a relatively obscure interest and not many people share that interest with you in “real life” (i.e., among your in-person friends and acquaintances), then online communities are a good place to get support and information.
No one close to me uses Ubuntu as her primary operating system. I’m surrounded by Mac and Windows users. So if I have a question about Ubuntu, where do I go? Online. It makes only logical sense.
It also means that all the naysayers who think “Oh, no! What if Ubuntu becomes really popular and everyone starts using it? The online forums will overload! There will be too many support requests for the forums to handle” are ignoring the fact that for many people online forums are a fallback. If “everyone” started using Ubuntu, most people wouldn’t go to a forum to get support with technical issues. They’d go to their tech-savvy family member or friend, just as they do now with Mac and Windows. It’s only the tech-savvy family member or friend who will have to resort to forums when she is unable to figure out the problem herself.
I realize there exist people who generally prefer online communication to in-person contact (sometimes I do, depending on the context), but for many folks, online connections are just fillers for a void in in-person connection.