Blog: Mariah Cherem

While kiosks and bulletin boards are still littered with those hangy tear-off strip fliers, they've been overshadowed by interactive web directories, where visitors can post reviews and find hip happenings. Give a shout-out to Mariah Cherem, Metro Detroit community manager for, who will be reviewing the benefits of community and sense of place.

Post 2 - Why I Believe in the Power of Online Communities

Sure, I use Facebook. I use Flickr, LinkedIn, and obviously and most regularly, Yelp. What I love about Yelp is its ability to help connect people with solutions. You need to get your car fixed?  Look at your Yelp friends' reviews of mechanics. Stuck someplace you're unfamiliar with at midnight?  A quick iPhone search can pull up an all-night place to satisfy your cravings.

But why do I passionately believe that online communities in general are important?  It didn't start with the company I work for, but it did start with a regional online community. An online community changed my life. Honest. I'm not messing with you here.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic medical condition. Without getting into the gory details (let's face it, nobody wants to be seen as a "sicky"), let's just say it was beyond inconvenient. It impacted pretty much every area of my daily life.

Here I was, in my early twenties, sick as a dog. I couldn't do the things I loved.  Heck, I could barely even get through my workday sometimes. I had great doctors, including one who was trying some experimental medications. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I jumped at the chance to take one of these drugs.

I joined a tiny little email group with a few other folks taking the same medicine. Mostly it was people asking if their side effects were normal – if other people were experiencing the same symptoms. Not exactly fun or exciting, but practical and useful, nonetheless – it helped you to communicate with other folks going through the same thing.

I kept in touch with a few of the group members, including one who had been successfully treated via other methods.  When it became clear that this drug was not, in fact, my magic bullet, I got in touch with this member. I talked with her online at length – after a few years of trying what felt like everything, I was hesitant to get my hopes up. However, I made an appointment with her doctor. Less than six months later, I was back to living a completely normal life.

I had gotten my health back… and I've been healthy in the three years ever since. No complaints. I would say it seemed almost miraculous, but it was really just connecting with the right treatment through connecting with the right person… via an online community.  The doctor and treatment were out there, I just had to seek out the right group of people and resources to connect those dots.

Here's my thinking:

If an online community could play a role in getting me healthy again… well, then finding a place to get tacos at midnight via an online community (like Yelp) seems like a cinch!

If an online community could connect me with a few other folks with very specific needs around the region, it can most certainly unite say… folks who want to track down the best ceviche in Southwest Detroit or karaoke in Ypsi. And if these folks have some simple interests like that in common, who knows what else they might share?

There's no denying that our own state and region have some "illnesses" of their own … or at least aren't as healthy as we’d like them to be at the moment.  If a community (on or offline) can help nurture one person back to health – it certainly has the power to create positive conversations, help search out solutions and to motivate people to enact change.  We may all have our various different tools – via the internet, in-person meetings, etc., but more regional collaboration and community is critical to getting this state and region healthy.