Wednesday, April 20, 2005

What really makes virtual community to be “community?”

From the Ellis et al.’s article, I am convinced that community is not place-based but relation-based, which tends to become networked these days. According to Rheingold’s definition of virtual community, virtual communities are “social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.” Even though information-oriented activities seem to be dominant in cyberspace, virtual communities are not likely to succeed without emotional and peer-group supports. Therefore, communication in virtual community becomes more than exchanging factual information. It brings up identity-building, empathy, and social support among the members. So, it is tempting to conclude that communication makes virtual community to be “community.” However, as they show from a variety of virtual community studies, trust is the most important factor to make people increase willingness to communicate and build sense of community even in the virtual space. In sum, I think that how to build trust in virtual community must be an important topic in the discussion of virtual community.


Sara said...

I agree that trust is a huge component, which is hard to ensure given that some "members" of online communities lurk and don't participate; and that identities are not comfirmable. I also think common purpose is a big deal - communication itself is important but not enough. And trust can be built through united successes of members toward their individual and collective purposes.

Aaron said...

I wonder if it might be a useful exercise to ditch the term "virtual" for "mediated" in this case. We have a lot of connotations for "virtual," but I think that communities that rely heavily on telephone and postal mail transfer of information probably have a lot in common with online, "virtual" communities. I'm thinking specifically of the TAA as an example -- I get the vast majority of my TAA-related info from phone calls and e-mails. As a community, the TAA is relatively dispersed throughout the physical campus area -- other than during the strike stuff last year, I doubt I've ever had a TAA-community-related conversation with any member from outside Vilas Hall.

So is the TAA not a community, due to its relative lack of face-to-face interaction? We have occasional membership meetings, but only a fraction of the membership attends. We communicate through media much more often and, I'd wager, much more effectively.