Virtual Communities

Virtual Communities

Ben Kei Daniel
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-663-1.ch007
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The growth of virtual communities and their continuous impact on social, economic and technological structures of societies has attracted a great deal of interest among researchers, systems designers and policy makers to examine the formation, development, sustainability and utility of these communities. Over the last two decades, the growth in research into virtual communities, though fairly diverse, can be broadly categorized into two dominant perspectives—technological determinism and social constructivism. The basic tenet of the technology determinism research is that technology shapes cultural values, social structure, and knowledge. This Chapter provides a general overview of research on virtual communities. It describes two particular types of virtual communities relevant to the analysis of social capital described in the book; virtual learning communities and distributed communities of practice. The goal of the Chapter is to provide an overall context in which social capital is reported in the book. The Chapter also describes other areas in which virtual communities are currently used. These include education, health care, business, socialization and mediating interaction among people in Diaspora.
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Historical Overview Of Virtual Communities

Understanding the historical development of virtual communities requires a closer look at the history of the Internet, since these communities predates the history of the Web. The Internet came into inception in 1969, when the United States Department of Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) established a computer network designed to sanction the existence of information beyond a susceptible, central location as a means of defence against the possibility of nuclear war (Hartley, 2002, p. 122). Through this network, known as ARPANET, came the development of a system which would act as a channel for “democratic information and distribution (Hartley, 2002, p. 122). This system advanced during the 1970s, with hosts being connected to the ARPANET as well as the subsequent appearance of state-funded computer networks, which later became known as the Internet.

The pioneer technologies that supported virtual communities, started with the electronic mailing systems or simply email, then followed by listservs and notice boards and then discussion forums. In 2000, various forms of websites supported by a wide range of Web technologies (Illera, 2007) became the mainstream environments supporting interactions in virtual communities. Though virtual communities might seem new, in fact, there is a historical trend to their development. About four decades ago Licklider (1968) predicted the emergence of technology enhanced social systems—he referred to these systems “online communities”.

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