This page considers chat and email as mechanisms for online
communities and issues such as netiquette, trolling and
It covers -
is a broader discussion of the shape and strength of online
communities in the complementary profile
on social spaces and in the digital environment guide.
Jonathan Zittrain's prescient 1997 paper The Rise
& Fall of Sysopdom commented
community" joins "sysop" in the oversize
dustbin of trite or hopelessly esoteric, hence generally
meaningless, cyberspace vernacular. Not that "online
community" is obscure, like "sysop";
rather, the term’s emptiness results from its
abuse. "Online community" is used by Internet
companies the way a motivational speaker uses "excellence,"
an academic uses "new paradigm," or a lawyer
uses "justice": it represents something once
craved and still invoked (if only as a linguistic placeholder)
even as it is believed by all but the most naïve
to be laughably beyond reach. Since it's applied to
almost anything, it now means vague warm fuzzies and
in The Virtual Community: Homesteading the Electronic
Frontier, had taken a more positive view -
in virtual communities use words on screens to exchange
pleasantries and argue, engage in intellectual discourse,
conduct commerce, exchange knowledge, share emotional
support, make plans, brainstorm, gossip, feud, fall
in love, find friends and lose them, play games, flirt,
create a little high art and a lot if idle talk. People
in virtual communities do just about everything people
do in real life, but we leave our bodies behind. You
can't kiss anybody and nobody can punch you in the nose,
but a lot can happen within those boundaries.
membership of a community apparently involving nothing
more than the decision to join a particular forum.
Utopian rhetoric that online communities would inevitably
and rightly lead to the emergence of 'netizens' - self-aware,
politically active and zealously libertarian (extending
a lex americana across all borders and jurisdictions)
unsurprisingly hasn't been substantiated. In practice
it is unclear whether 'online community' has much meaning
outside sociology or cyberstudies departments in provincial
universities and fans of the digerati.
We have explored the notion of online community in more
detail here, highlighting
writing and studies of particular significance.
It may be more effective to consider such fora as online
social spaces rather than communities - facilities that
people visit to view (even exchange) information, be entertained,
or otherwise interact but that often do not involve any
meaningful sense of obligation to other participants or
the owner of the space.
Key features of many chatrooms and newsgroups are
pseudo-anonymity and mutability of identity (is the
person with whom you are chatting - or whose post to
a newsgroup you are reading who they claim to be? Are
several people avatars of a single individual?)
of strong social bonds (eg expectations about reciprocity,
responsibility and trust)
of - or merely weak enforcement of - explicit rules
and fuzzy implicit norms
participation by many members, with for example most
postings on a typical newsgroup
coming from under 5% of the subscribers
such as flaming and trolling
by corporate entities on a commercial basis, inspiring
the same degree of loyalty to the operator and collective
bonding with other participants that would be found
in visitors to a retail mall.
Many readers of Rheingold appear to view the construction
of online communities as a sort of holy grail. Marketers
have also been enthusiastic, evident in books, journal
articles and workshops about how to build captive market
in the guise of community. We have elsewhere highlighted
the significance of the internet for eroding the viability
of AOL's "walled garden".
David Johnson's paper
The Unscrupulous Diner's Dilemma & Anonymity in
Cyberspace argues that
achieve a civilized form of cyberspace, we have to limit
the use of anonymous communications. Many early citizens
of cyberspace will bitterly oppose any such development,
arguing that anonymous and pseudonymous electronic communications
are vital to preserve electronic freedoms and allow
free expression of human personality. ... we all collectively
face the diners' dilemma - we must collaborate in groups
to build a rich social fabric, and we know that the
ability to act anonymously, sporadically, in large groups
brings out the worst in human character.
An ICANNWatch participant more tartly commented
wonder if it might be time for ICANNwatch to consider
banning anonymous messages. Yeah, free speech is great,
but people hiding behind anonymity on this site haven't
lately been engaging in insightful discussion on the
issues; rather, the "anonymous cowards" (as
Slashdot terms them) have unleashed an astounding quantity
of utterly delusional "commentary", and seem
to have chased off practically all the rational commentators
who once made the discussions here interesting and informative.
As long as ... things can be posted anonymously, we
have no way of knowing whether they're all being written
by a single mental-institution escapee, or if there's
a groundswell of militant ignorance out there.
& Keith Blanton in Person to person on the Internet
(London: Academic Press 1997) argued that online
with an individual of a faraway and unfamiliar land
often goes much further to reduce prejudice and close-mindedness
than do rhetoric and media exposure to distant cultures
acknowledged that anonymity permits "immature, insecure
people to throw their virtual weight around, harassing
people and interfering with their attempts at pleasant
That is consistent with cautions in works such as Judith
Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community
and other papers in Communities in Cyberspace
(London: Routledge 1999) edited by Marc Smith & Peter
Reid's 1996 Communication and Community on Internet
Relay Chat: Constructing Communities and The
Self and the Internet: Variations on the "Illusion"
of One Self in Psychology & the Internet:
Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Transpersonal Implications
(New York: Academic Press 1998) edited by Jayne Gackenbach
and Janet Sternberg's 2001 dissertation
Misbehavior in Cyber Places: The Regulation of Online
Conduct in Virtual Communities on the Internet.
Some enthusiasts have been critical of 'lurking', ie fora
participants who read but do not post (typically 90% or
more of the 'community' in most online fora) and are therefore
considered by purists to be guilty of free-riding.
Literatire on lurking includes Christian Stegbauer &
Alexander Rausch's 'Lurkers in mailing lists' in Online
Social Sciences (Seattle: Hogrefe & Huber 2002)
edited by Bernad Batinic, Ulf-Dietrich Reips & Michael
Bosnjak; Bosnjak's 'Participation in non-restricted web
surveys: A typology and explanatory model for item non-response'
in Dimensions of Internet Science (Lengerich:
Pabst 2001) edited by Reips & Bosnjak.