Asynchronous Text-Based Community: Proposals for the Analysis

Asynchronous Text-Based Community: Proposals for the Analysis

Antonella Mascio
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0312-7.ch002
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The chapter starts with a short introduction to the complex phenomenon of Virtual Communities as part of media convergence process. The aim of the chapter is the analysis of Text-Based Communities through methodologies of ethnography and socio-semiotics, with specific focus, and analysis, of some virtual groups related to TV-Drama and linked to Fashion genre. The last part of the chapter is about the analysis of these virtual groups.
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1. “Virtual Communities”

“Virtual communities” are social aggregations finding their place in specific Internet locations. They were established even before the birth of the Web (the BBS1 for example) as a spontaneous and anarchical phenomenon. Since the second half of the 1990's the communities have become one of the most studied, analysed and explored elements of the Internet. A vast and heterogeneous literature has in fact developed around the concept of virtual community.

Virtual communities are quite varied: group members may meet by electronic means in some Internet spaces, or can exchange messages without ever experiencing actual moments of real-time conversation. The expression “virtual community” works therefore as a sort of umbrella term (Eco, 1979): its value does not lie in its expressing an unambiguous concept, but in its referring to a vast universe of meanings and values, where mailing lists, forums, e-groups may be found, as well as MUD, MOO and the 3D world of the web, environments describing and representing different inter-subjective relations. The configuration of the “virtual community” has further developed in recent years, thus coinciding with some forms of social network: Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and others also enable the establishment of forms of community, although according to new parameters and configurations. To some extent they may be seen as a clear evolution of communities, as the former share with the latter similar elements such as a shared culture and are characterised by a constantly changing outlook, so that making a correct and definite definition of what they are turns out to be quite difficult. Certainly the web 2.0 is contributing to change the idea of on-line community, thus stretching the boundaries of previous classifications2.

On-line social aggregations are mostly characterised by the specificity of their environments where, despite the absence of a physical space, the sense of place is perceived quite strongly and is very present. A place to meet is there, it exists, although with different qualities than concrete environments, and the members of these aggregations perceive and experience it as a space they have in common. Or, at least, as the possibility of sharing a space they have in common. As Meyrowitz wrote, the idea is there that electronic media have substantially changed the meaning of physical presence, which is no longer necessary in some circumstances to experience social events. According the the author, “Electronic media have altered the significance of time and space for social interaction” (1986, p. viii).

The communities may be studied as laboratories where dynamics relating to the exchange of meanings, the construction of meaning, and the establishing of a culture may take shape and find their place.

As is often the case – and we will attempt to demonstrate it in the present article - virtual communities may also be linked to medial source texts: as for example the communities of fans meeting in the web to discuss their favourite TV show.3 Audiences may also extend the pleasure deriving from the experience of watching by looking for further information regarding the series or by trying to enter into a Web community where the show is the focus of exchanges. And text boundaries would be blurred as a consequence.

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