Understanding Trust in Virtual Communities: Revisited

Understanding Trust in Virtual Communities: Revisited

Qing Zou (McGill University, Canada) and Eun G. Park (McGill University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-573-5.ch001
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With people participating in various virtual communities in everyday life, trust building between participants is significant and indispensable in order to maintain communication in both traditional and virtual communities. In particular, virtual communities provide a platform or network through which members can communicate with faster and more simultaneous interactions in invisible ways. Since the importance of trust in virtual communities has been widely recognized, trust as a complex, multi-faceted, and context-dependent concept has been examined by many researchers in several disciplines. In this chapter, the authors aim to examine the definitions and characteristics of trust in the context of virtual communities and discuss terms relevant to the concept of trust. Different types of trust are investigated. Issues, challenges and future research directions revolving around trust are discussed. In examining the concept of trust, this chapter focuses on social rather than technical aspects of trust and trust building in virtual communities.
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There have been several definitions of the term community, which reflects the fact that there may be difficulties and confusion in defining the term (Bhattacharyya, 2004). Since a community seemingly refers to geographic proximity and the characteristics of defining community are similar to those of group (Christenson, Frendley, & Robinson, 1994), the term community is used interchangeably with the term group. Let us first examine the term group in order to understand the term community. Brandon and Hollingshead (2007) define the term group as “an entity comprised of people having interdependent goals, who are acquainted, interact with one another and have a sense of belonging associated with their membership” (p.106). Wilson and Ryder (1996) also agree that groups become communities, “when they interact with each other and stay together long enough to form a set of habits and conventions, and when they come to depend upon each other for accomplishment of certain ends” (p. 801).

Turning to the term community, it is defined as “a constructed arena where multiple people with shared interests interact with each other” (Dehnart, 1999, A standard definition of community, para. 5). In comparing these definitions, we see that three components are shared: people, interaction, and a sense of belonging. In other words, community is composed of people who join as members, they socially interact, and their members have a set of shared denominators as their social identification or a sense of belonging to the community (Christenson et al., 1994). This third component is considered important since people need to have a sense of belonging by occupying a mutual and collective interest or intention to form a community. In line with this notion, the following definitions emphasize a sense of sharing, by saying that community is “any social configuration that possesses shared identity and norms” (Bahattacharyya, 2004, p. 12), or “a social organization of people who share knowledge, value and goals” (Jonassen, Peck, & Wilson, 1999, p. 118). To see whether the characteristics of the term community may apply to another term, virtual community, we now examine how differently or similarly people act in the virtual community.

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