Virtual Commun-ism

Wed, 8 Feb 1995 12:54:26 +0000

>Dear fellow anthros,
>The following request appeared on VIRTPSY, a list for people interested in
>psychological aspects of virtual reality. Shall we see what we can come up
>> Basically, a group I'm working with is interested in finding
>> out more about "communities". How they are formed, become stronger,
>> communicate, interact, what range of human needs various communities
>> meet, and the range of communities that exist...In order to consider
>> how they might be supported by innovative technologies. It's
>> all pretty vague and long-term....
>> One more specific interest is on totally online communities...
>> like MUDs/MOOs...but also aol, Sierra Online, the WELL, Prodigy,
>> bulletin boards, IRC, SeniorNet, etc...Is there some well-known way
>> to categorize communities "in real life" that might be useful in
>> categorizing the kinds of communities that exist online? Or the kinds
>> of activities, social behaviors involved, or the kind of affiliation
>> needs met, or....the kind of support they might need, or...something?
>Might be more fun than arguing insupportable property rights. <g>
>John McCreery

At last - a thread on ANTHRO-L that I can be interested in again!

I'm looking forward to seeing Danny's classification of virtual
communities. It will hopefully be appearing eventually in Topothesia - of
which you will be hearing much more hopefully soon.

Jlm's points that a community requires membership and involvement seem too
minimalist. The Elks require membership and involvement, and they're not a
community. I would add a few potential attributes, but flame away if you
feel they are applicable neither to 'virtual' or 'non-virtual'

*A sense of obligation toward other members of the community and the
reputation of the community as a whole...
*A sense of shared spaces - whether physical geography or cyberspatial...
*A basic set of shared interactions and communal participations...
*A basic level of shared COMMUNICATION systems - this being, IMHO, at the
root of the formation of community.

How virtual communities differ from non-virtual communities, IMHO...

*The level of felt obligation is less because people cannot see or
otherwise experience the presence (other than textually, generally) of
other members
*The shared spaces are likely to be based on the computer-conferencing
system which organizes dialogue and keeps people's communications in
connection... i.e. the "neighborhoods" of Usenet are the newsgroups and
"tenements" are the threads. Virtual communities are inevitably NOT based
on shared physical space.
*The shared interactions are often based on the constraints and nuances of
the communication medium - smilies are amusing and creative, but arose out
of the limitations of ASCII...
*The communication system is electronic and generally computer-mediated
(rather than gathering on stoops or in town squares.)

Now, it's an interesting fact to point out that many of the properties of
virtual communities are similar to Benedict Anderson's "imagined
communities." That is, obligations are abstract rather than direct ("it's
the duty of all Americans..."), shared spaces have imaginary boundaries
(the nation-state), shared interactions are based on invented rituals (the
flag, etc.), and the communication systems are the emerging forces of
cartography, newsprinting, and surveying emerging in the 18th century.

The main difference between the imagined community of Anderson and the
virtual community of Internet is that one is (was) based on the emerging
print medium, whereas the latter is based on the emerging electronic

I would say that MOOs are more truly virtual communities than electronic
mailing lists for a few simple reasons:

Interactions are constant, "real-time," and ongoing, rather than
intermittent, when people are 'jacked in' to the MOO; most MOOs now offer
social interactions revolving around 'virtual' property and collective
decision-making, rather than just 'mere' communication and information
sharing; MOOs allow people to develop stable online identities and
personalities for their characters; and the types of interactions are more
interesting, e.g. people can kill each other (that is to say, their MOO
characters) (rather than just consign someone to their kill-file.)


Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
CyberAnthropologist, TechnoCulturalist, AnthroFuturist, Topothesian
Home Page URL:
"One measures a circle, beginning anywhere." -- Charles Fort