What is an online Community?

It’s been quite difficult for me to answer this question. At first, it seemed to be a simple question but once you try to answer it, you realize it’s not as simple as it seems. Wikipedia defines community as “a group of individuals who share characteristics, regardless of their location or type of interaction.” In “How Some Folks Have Tried to Describe Community” Nancy White collected a number of different definitions of community which I will cite here. For Wally Bock “communities are characterized by three things: common interests, frequent interaction and identification.” Jake says it’s a “group of people who form relationships over time by interacting regularly around shared experiences, which are of interest to all of them for varying individual reasons.” At Learnativity.com folks state the “communities help generate a shared language, rituals customers, and collective memory of those that join the group.” They go on by pointing out that “the term community suggests a general sense of altruism, reciprocity and beneficence that comes from working together.” For the website of the Foundation of Community Encouragement “a community is a group of two or more people who have been able to accept and transcend their differences regardless of the diversity of their backgrounds (social, spiritual, educational, ethnic, economic, politica, etc.). This enables them to communicate effectively and openly and to work together toward goals identified as being of their common good.” Bronwyn Stuckey argues that we know it’s a community “when people are able to rely on each other to make room for each other and to enjoy a successful shared experience.” She adds that in a community “people really work for the good of the group and each other.” To conclude this number of definitions I’d like to go back to Wikipedia again where it’s stated that what makes a community is “the strength of the ties between a group of whatever nature – cultural, ethnic or moral – they may be.” After having read all these definitions about community its meaning became clearer to me. There are quite a few characteristics that make a community. A community is a group of individuals who:

  • have a stronger sense of identity
  • have common interests
  • have frequent/regular interaction
  • are able to transcend their differences
  • share common characteristics
  • share experiences
  • share a sense of altruism
  • share a sense of reciprocity
  • share a sense of beneficence
  • aim to achieve goals for their common good
  • enjoy a successful shared experience
  • work for the good of the group and each other

What’s the difference between a community and an online community, also called virtual community or e-community? The term ‘virtual community’ is attributed to  the book of the same title by Howard Rheingold, published in 1993. Unlike a community, an online community needs a computer network for its members to communicate and interact with one another. There are a group of people that mainly interact via communication media and depend upon social interaction and exchange online.

Amy Jo Kim (2000) proposed a membership life cycle for online communities in her book “Community Building on the Web“. This life cycle would be:

  • visitors or lurkers
  • novices: participate in the community life
  • regulars
  • leaders
  • elders

A similar model was proposed by Lave and Wenger. They also advocate a cycle of five types of members:

  • peripheral
  • inbound
  • insider
  • boundary
  • outbound

Online communities allow people to interact with like-minded individuals instantaneously from anywhere on the globe but they also have some negative points. They can be hunting grounds for online criminals and too much time in online communities may have negative consequences on the real-world interaction.

In a post called “Building Online Community Brick by Virtual Brick” Aliza Sherman enumerates a few rules on online communities that I have summarized here in this mind map.

Rules on online communities
Rules on online communities

To see other mind maps I made about the subject click here.

This entry was posted in FOC08, onlinecommunities and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to What is an online Community?

  1. Pingback: Online communities « Random Thoughts

  2. Annette Strauch says:

    I am interested in the subject because I use online communities. I worked for a web project for 3 years – so I used to be online for at least eight hours a day anyway with my job. I have learnt from the online communities – esp. at the moment where I live in such a remote part of Wales.

  3. mapquest says:

    i use online communities as well, and im online like 15 hours a day, and still i make time to go to the gym and spend time with my wife, lol i dont know how i do it

  4. Ajesh says:

    Shared knowledge and experience is the greatest advantage with online communities. It has helped in making the world smaller.

    Montessori Play School

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  15. Stan Faryna says:

    Online community, I suspect, is too often a pretense for an online space to which visitors, friends, leads, and customers return often -a space where the property manager/owner can deliver messages and/or offers without distraction.

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