Towards an Interdisciplinary Socio-Technical Definition of Virtual Communities

Towards an Interdisciplinary Socio-Technical Definition of Virtual Communities

Umar Ruhi (University of Ottawa, Canada)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch371
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Abstract

The objective of this chapter is to offer a holistic perspective of virtual communities (VCs) by outlining their underlying concepts and fundamental properties. Firstly, the chapter offers a brief synopsis of research fields that form the basis of socio-technical research on VCs. Key issues and theoretical orientations from four research streams are discussed, namely: sociological/psychological; technological; business/management; and economic perspectives. Following this review, the chapter provides a summary of four interdisciplinary literature domains that have significantly contributed to the body of knowledge on VCs. These include: computer mediated communication; community informatics; knowledge management; and internet marketing. Definitions from seminal research studies in these domains are subsequently synthesized to propose an interdisciplinary socio-technical definition of VCs. The proposed definition offers a nascent ascriptive characterization of VCs along five dimensions of participants, purpose, platforms, protocols and persona – together constituting the 5 Ps of VCs.
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Background

Despite the absence of an agreed upon definition of VCs across research studies, the presence of a technology platform that facilitates interactions among members is considered to be a main characteristic of online communities (Donath, 2005; Preece, 2001a; Preece, 2001b). Various information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be used in VCs – including, websites, computer networks, email lists, Usenet newsgroups, discussion forums, Internet chat applications, and networked databases (Coon, 1998; Lapachet, 2001). Additionally, modern technology platforms such as social networking sites, weblogs (popularly known as blogs) for user generated content, and wikis for online collaboration have also been considered in the list of potential technologies that can spawn a VC (Blanchard, 2003; Brailas, Koskinas, Dafermos, & Alexias, 2015; Buss & Strauss, 2009 ; Mačiulienė & Skaržauskienė, 2016). These various technology platforms and their underlying features and functions that enable VCs have been studied by information systems (IS) researchers over a long time. In this section, we offer a characterization of VCs from an IS perspective.

Key Terms in this Chapter

IT Artifact: Bundles of hardware infrastructure, software applications, informational content, and supporting resources that serve specific goals and needs in personal or organizational contexts.

Interdisciplinary Research: Integration of two or more seemingly exclusive academic disciplines or research fields in order to enhance understanding of a research phenomenon or to create new knowledge.

Virtual Communities: (General definition) an aggregation of individuals or organizations with a shared purpose, who interact through a variety of technology platforms including social networks, online discussion forums, blogs, wikis, email lists or newsgroups.

ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies): An umbrella term that includes any communication devices, computing hardware, content tools, as well as software applications.

HCI (Human-Computer Interaction): An interdisciplinary field of research and practice concerned with the design, implementation, use, and evaluation of interactive ICTs.

Socio-Technical Perspective: A research outlook that highlights the interdependence and inextricable linkages between people (sociological systems) and ICTs (technological systems), underscores the co-evolution of these systems, and emphasizes that both systems need to be jointly optimized in order to produce positive practical outcomes.

Computer-Mediated Communication: Any form of data exchange (text, images, audio, or video) among two or more end-users utilizing different ICTs for synchronous, asynchronous or real time communication with one another.

Virtual Communities: (Proposed definition) an aggregation of participants (individuals or organizations) with a shared purpose, who have their interactions mediated through a technology platform and guided by collective protocols, and who embrace a cooperative membership persona in their online interactions.

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