Online communities are distinct from normal communities, because the peculiarities of electronic communication lead to some forms of behavior not usually seen amongst individuals in MeatSpace. Regular opportunities for face to face interaction mitigate these tendencies, making an OnlineCommunity distinct from some other form of community which happens to use electronic means as one form of interaction.
Online communities usually have an explicit purpose. Examples are specifying, developing, testing, distributing software, sharing, developing and realizing ideas, sharing and making news.
But some believe that online communities are an oxymoron; see the discussion at the bottom of VirtualCommunity.
Checkout the backlinks to CategoryOnlineCommunity for a list of online communities. KnowHow:Find_Interesting_Online_Communities is a work-in-progress that attempts to organize a directory of online communities the Wiki way, i.e. a SelfOrganizingOnlineCommunityDirectory. Browse and/or contribute.
You could also take a bus at the TourBusStop.
The Powazek definition (DesignForCommunity): "Web communities happen when users are given tools to use their voice in a public and immediate way, forming intimate relationships over time."
Efforts like [Meetup] are making a dent in 'almost zero opportunities' issue by providing opportunities to bring people face to face, at least at some local scale. [Slashdot Meetup] and [LiveJournal Meetup] are being particularly successful. -- ManpreetSingh
People have been using the term "VirtualCommunity" instead of "OnlineCommunity." Are they different terms, the same term (and if so, we should unify them to prevent confusion in the PageDatabase), a subclass/superclass relationship? How do they relate to each other?
I think nowadays the term OnlineCommunity implies that the members communicate "online using the Internet" and that all communications are readable in the Internet.
OnlineCommunity is a type of [epistemic community] as opposed to a real physical type of community where people do things together that directly involve their bodies. Some online efforts like political parties might ultimately be about real actions and impacts on real bodies, but those that are just abstract discussions are not 'communities' as understood by most people.
Related topic - CommunicationChannel
I'd request clarity on, "because the peculiarities of electronic communication lead to some forms of behavior not usually seen amongst individuals in MeatSpace."
It seems out of balance to contrast communities online with individuals offline; Change one variable (communities vs. collections of individuals) or change the other variable (offline vs. online,) but not both at the same time.
Even if we restrict it to comparing offline vs. online communities, (the electronic medium,) there is another problem: Differences in accessibility.
That is, I can't find a single group with a focus like MeatballWiki offline, within at least 100 miles. But I can't throw a stone and not hit some group of friends that loosely shares interests.
My preference is for the community like meatball (focused, intentional, subject I'm interested in,) but all I can find are less focused communities of association (friendship, support,) "out here."
So we should be comparing online focused communities with offline focused communities, and then see if there are major discrepancies in behavior. My thought is that the gap is getting shorter and shorter. It is not at all uncommon for infighting to be high and passionate within groups sharing an interest or effort, and focused on conversation or action.
Another way of saying this: "Your local "community" is peaceful because y'all just talk about the weather." It's kind of hard to get into a fist fight about how cold it was last night.
But if you and you're neighbor are into football, but support opposing teams, ... ...Be prepared for "behavior not usually seen amongst individuals in MeatSpace." ..!