John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Fri, 10 Feb 1995 11:27:08 JST

WARNING! Long message below.

Seeker1 writes,

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

*A sense of obligation toward other members of the community and
thereputation of the community as a whole...
*A sense of shared spaces - whether physical geography or
*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,

*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 medium.

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
offersocial 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.)
For me the problem is this. Having said to myself, "Yes, yes, oh
yes...what a wonderfully thought out and carefully nuanced reply,"
where do we go from here?

Seeker1's remarks illustrate a classic definitional/semantic
approach to language. Here "community" is defined by a list of
distinctive features, and candidates for membership in the set to
which "community" refers are discriminated in terms of the
presence or absence of the features in the list.

I wonder if it would enrich the discussion to start in a Rouschian
prototype theory sort of way by examining the prototypical images
that "community" invokes for us. I will try to get the ball rolling by
leading off with some of my own musings.

In contrast to Seeker1's "neighborhoods" and "tenements" image, my
prototype for community is an idealized rural town where everybody
knows everybody and people take care of each other. I'm reminded of
Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone but my visual image is somewhere
in Vermont with a town square and a white frame Congregational

The church is important because, while in fact I grew up in Virginia
in York Country, a place in transit from "rural" to "suburb," my
parents are pious Lutherans, the kind of people who sing in the choir,
teach in the Sunday School, serve on the church council, host the
annual church picnic in their back yard. A formative memory for me-
-I was only five years old at the time--is having the house we'd
bought in what was then a very "rural" sort of place burn down. My
Dad's father and brothers came up from Georgia, and people from the
church pitched in to help build the house my parents still live in.
There are things about that memory that now seem troublesome; all
the men on the roof hammering away while the women made lunch
and lemonade is one. I have now been married for over 25 years to a
very independent woman who runs her own company and is handier
with tools than I am, and our daughter has chosen to become a
midshipman (officially a gender-neutral term) at the U.S. Naval

Still, there's a warmth to that memory that is missing from the
apartment complex where we now live in Japan. We greet our
neighbors and smile in passing, but I feel closer to people like Danny
Yee, Seeker1, Mike Leiber and John Stevens, friends I've met on
Anthro-L, even though we've never seen each other face to face. (Eve
Pinsker and Jim Carrier would also be on this list, but we have met
face to face. Rick Wilk, too; but there hasn't been enough interaction

Now I'll stop and leave some bandwidth for other folks. I am looking
forward to hearing from you.

John McCreery