Lessons from Cypris Chat: Revisiting Virtual Communities as Communities

Lessons from Cypris Chat: Revisiting Virtual Communities as Communities

Jean-Paul Lafayette DuQuette
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2426-7.ch016
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What makes a successful online community? This is a question that would probably not have much meaning to someone in the early 1990. At the time, use of the World Wide Web had just begun to spread, first across college campuses and then among the general public in North America and Western Europe. A more common question, and one that Wellman and Gulia (1999) asked, was do online groups even call themselves communities at all? This chapter examines how much has changed about how we perceive online community since 1995: the people we converse with, the reasons for communicating online and the pitfalls encountered. It also introduces Cypris Chat, a virtual world community within Second Life that stubbornly clings to Internet first adopter values and goals, a group that reminds us that an online existence dominated by social networking sites has its alternatives.
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This chapter reviews Wellman and Gulia’s “Virtual Communities as Communities” in Marc A. Smith and Peter Kollock’s Communities in Cyberspace (1999). Through asking seven questions related to online communities (as the authors then understood them), this chapter lists the ways in which their analyses and predictions regarding online communities were sometimes prescient but often did not take into account the ways online interactions would be shaped by social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The author then looks at just the kind of community that Wellman and Gulia optimistically predicted, a learning group within Linden Lab’s virtual world platform, Second Life. By providing examples from this group, Cypris Chat, related to the same seven questions that Wellman and Gulia asked, the author proposes that the Cypris model provides a way forward for the optimistic, adventurous conception of virtual communities that the Internet’s early adopters still hold, one that fosters robust communities of practice (Wenger, 1998), and allows participants to leverage anonymity to learn while expanding their social circle beyond their offline existence.

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