Towards an Interdisciplinary Socio-Technical Definition of Virtual Communities

Towards an Interdisciplinary Socio-Technical Definition of Virtual Communities

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7368-5.ch046
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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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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.

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