Virtual Communities

Virtual Communities

George Kontolemakis (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-014-1.ch204
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Abstract

In recent years, computer-mediated communication has been the enabling factor for connecting people to one another and establishing “virtual relationships” (Igbaria, 1999; Johnston, Raizada, & Cronin, 1996). Virtual communities evolved as users of the early networks utilized them mainly for informal rather than business-related communication. These communities were not planned development in the sphere of computer networking. As this form of interaction increased, the users began to demand better and improved technology and functionality which would assist them in their interactions. “Virtual Communities describe the union between individuals or organizations who share common values and interests using electronic media to communicate within a shared semantic space on a regular basis” (Schubert, 1999). This was one of the first definitions of Virtual Communities. Nowadays, in considering companies that are building or trying to build virtual communities, it seems that the up-to-date definition of Virtual Communities is that these “involve establishing connections on electronic networks among people with common needs so that they can engage in shared discussions that persist and accumulate over time leading to complex webs of personal relationships and an increasing sense of identification with the overall community” (Hagel, 2007).
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Introduction: The Evolution Of Virtual Communities

In recent years, computer-mediated communication has been the enabling factor for connecting people to one another and establishing “virtual relationships” (Igbaria, 1999; Johnston, Raizada, & Cronin, 1996). Virtual communities evolved as users of the early networks utilized them mainly for informal rather than business-related communication. These communities were not planned development in the sphere of computer networking. As this form of interaction increased, the users began to demand better and improved technology and functionality which would assist them in their interactions. “Virtual Communities describe the union between individuals or organizations who share common values and interests using electronic media to communicate within a shared semantic space on a regular basis” (Schubert, 1999). This was one of the first definitions of Virtual Communities. Nowadays, in considering companies that are building or trying to build virtual communities, it seems that the up-to-date definition of Virtual Communities is that these “involve establishing connections on electronic networks among people with common needs so that they can engage in shared discussions that persist and accumulate over time leading to complex webs of personal relationships and an increasing sense of identification with the overall community” (Hagel, 2007).

Five major milestones have marked the development and evolution of Virtual Communities. These are: (a) 1977 - Development of ARPAnet; (b) 1978 – First Virtual Community (SF-LOVERS); (c) 1980 – USENET; (d) 1990s – America OnLine (AOL); and (e) 2000s- community-driven initiatives such as blogs, podcasting, and wikis.

The first virtual community was formed on ARPAnet as communication became easier due to the development and offering of more sophisticated functions (Cronin, 1995). Joseph C. R. Licklider and Robert Taylor, research directors for the U.S. Department of Defense, started the research which led to the development of ARPAnet, the first multisite, packet-switched network, in 1977. ARPAnet was designed to support the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) for the transferring of files and resource sharing. It was a simple services network for sharing news and for many-to-many synchronous communications. The two main features were the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and TELNET, a remote log-in facility. E-mail was an afterthought in the development of ARPAnet, but quickly became one of the most popular features of the system. Once those were sufficiently developed, the necessary infrastructure and functionality was in place to enable the formation of a community. The first virtual community was Science Fiction Lovers (SF-LOVERS), started in 1978 (Cronin, 1995).

Many virtual communities followed. Starting in the early 1980’s, a network called USENET was set up to link university computing centers that used the UNIX operating system. USENET came into being in late 1979, shortly after the release of V7 Unix with UUCP. Two Duke University graduate students in North Carolina, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, thought of connecting computers together to exchange information within the UNIX community. Steve Bellovin, also a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, put together the first version of the news software using shell scripts, and installed it on the first two sites: “unc” and “duke”. At the beginning of 1980, the network consisted of those two sites and “phs” (another machine at Duke), and was presented at the January USENIX conference of the same year. Steve Bellovin later rewrote the scripts into “C” programs, but those were never released beyond “unc” and “duke”. Shortly thereafter, Steve Daniel did another implementation in “C” for public distribution. Tom Truscott made further modifications, and this became the “A” news release.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Knowledge Management: The process of creating, storing, sharing, and disseminating knowledge in an organizational context (Davenport & Prusak, 1998).

Wiki (Capitalized): Refers to an open source technology that can be used to support knowledge management efforts (Wagner, 2004).

Organizational Culture: Organizational culture is the specific collection of values and norms that are shared by people and groups in an organization and that control the way they interact with each other and with stakeholders outside the organization. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_culture.

Knowledge Management Systems: Any IT system used to support knowledge management efforts within organizations (Alavi & Leidner, 2001).

Wiki Wiki: Means being quick in Hawaii (Leuf & Cunningham, 2001).

Open Source: Describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product’s sources (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source)

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