A Theoretical Method of Measuring Virtual Community Health and the Health of their Operating Environment in a Business Setting

A Theoretical Method of Measuring Virtual Community Health and the Health of their Operating Environment in a Business Setting

Brent Robertson (Sancor, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-040-2.ch020
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This chapter discusses how virtual communities are associated with business and describes how the communities support the overall business effort. The chapter then examines the ways that the execution of certain business processes – such as the ‘lessons learned process’ – can have a strong supporting role in maintaining the health of virtual communities. Quantitatively measuring key aspects of these business processes provides a strong indication of the health of virtual communities that are linked to the process. The chapter introduces a measurement by objectives system, describes how it can be used to assess the health of virtual communities and how this can be extrapolated to assess the supportive nature of the overall business environment the communities are operating in.
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Rheingold (1993) defined Virtual communities as “social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.” (Chapter 1). Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002) define a Community of Practice as “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.” (p. 4). Distributed Communities of Practice (DCOP) (Daniel, Sarkar, and O'Brien, 2006) focus on communities of practice that are wholly supported by virtual means.

A question to be addressed is whether DCOPs in the workplace are a subset of virtual communities. Simply because web-based technologies are used by businesses does not mean that businesses have created virtual communities. Rheingold’s definition weaves an emotional component with a technology component, forcing the question ‘does utilizing web-based technology in a business setting constitute a virtual community?’

From a technological perspective, we are all aware that businesses have begun to utilize web-based technology as a means of enhancing business performance. Technological components of DCOPs that businesses are using include email, online forums, discussion areas, websites, and libraries – most of which are routinely used by employees in small and large business enterprises for world wide communication.

In any business-related internet and intranet setting, anonymity is difficult and use of actual names and – often – additional contact information is expected. Because names are used and there are often professional settings where ‘names’ meet, communication does form a sense of community.

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