Virtual Communities

Virtual Communities

Antonella Mascio (University of Bologna, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch572
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Background

From Community to Virtual Community

The concept of “community” became central in the late 19th century thanks to Ferdinand Tönnies' work (1887) in terms of the well-known Gemeinschaft-Gesellshaft dichotomy. In essence, we owe to him the first definition of “community” in the modern age. Tönnies countered it with “society,” thus highlighting qualities such as trust and safety being engendered among its members. The “community” represented the positive cohesion of the social, and compared with the formation of the “mass,” seen negatively as the grouping of individuals characterised by the lack of stable ties.

Even today the notion of community still exercises a great evocative power, automatically leading to a series of traditional values acquired in faraway times. In many instances this past is described as the moment when human relations were better functioning than today's.

The classic definition of community is linked to its geographic location. This element cannot be applied with respect to VC in the Internet: the “housing” space, when it is there, resides in a server and may be reached by the group members via the Net connection. A full-fledged physical space is lacking, what does instead exist and persist is the feeling of the place. A meeting place exists, with different qualities from those of concrete environments, and the members of these aggregations perceive and experience it as a common space.

In accordance with Joshua Meyrowitz (1985) our intention here is to assert that electronic media have significantly changed the meaning of the physical presence, which in some circumstances is no longer needed to experience social events: «the media development has lessened the meaning of being physically present in experiencing people and events [...] Where one is located is increasingly disconnected from one's own experiences and knowledge. Electronic media have changed the meaning of time and space in social interaction» (Meyrowitz, 1985; Introduction).

The role of space in the definition of these aggregations is particularly relevant and should be taken into account in the study of groups or communities in the Net: this is also the reason why they exist. Without the possibility of having a meeting place, even if virtual, interactions among individuals would cease to exist. The most interesting element refers to the nature of the space: this is in fact a medial space, whose reality depends on the existence of the media (specifically for the Internet) and as such it cannot envisage the possibility of mediated interactions. Let us move now to briefly explore the peculiarities of VC and their history.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Community: A group of people who interact each other in the same space and time. They share a culture and a reciprocal trust.

Social Aspects: It is focused on the study of issues related to social relations between individuals, according to a sociological perspective.

Virtual Community: Virtual spaces in which groups of people gather around common interests, developing various forms of interaction, sometimes leading to the creation of community well-shaped.

Online Communication: Is the typical Internet communication. It provides a connection to the network and it can present in different models (forum, chat,..).

Social Network Sites: Web sites dedicated to social exchanges between people.

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