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An OnlineCommunity is a community where members have almost zero opportunities for face to face interaction. Generally implies a 'Net presence, although online communities have formed on local bulletin boards, fax systems, snail mail and probably SMS capable cell phones. (but, see below for some potential problems with this definition.)

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.

Finding online communities

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.

Definitional matters

The Powazek definition

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."

Need more community in the definition
The new definition is too weak. For instance, it does not sufficiently exclude an office environment where the primary CommunicationChannel between departments is e-mail and the phone. Nonetheless, the organization is not an online community.

Need to include non-online things
The academic community is the same kind of thing as an online community, at least in the old days when the primary CommunicationChannel was the letter. And there are the cases of WittenbergDoor and EarlyPoetryAndWiki that are worth considering.

I think these are examples of VirtualCommunity.

ZERO face to face interaction?
The idea that members of an OnlineCommunity "have almost zero opportunities for face to face interaction" is not correct; it ignores the fact that many if not most online communities schedule frequent NetGets?, social occasions which take place in MeatSpace. A more accurate definition would state that many members of online communities can and often do avoid face to face interaction. -- DavidPrenatt

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

What do you think of setting up a WikiMeetup?? --ChuckSmith
When/where shall we plan it for? MarkDilley

Online implies over the internet? Online vs. virtual

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.

If all communications are readable, it would be something like an open online community. If they're not, it may still be a community. But "using computer mediated communication over computer networks" is a bit cumbersome.

As meatball is an open online community, this is our natural context. If we talk about community we think online and open too and say it explicitely otherwise. -- HelmutLeitner

Relation to the term "epistemic community"

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.

Definition Links
An interesting discussion of the definitions of OnlineCommunity can be found at http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node=Definitions%20of%20community.


Organized by purpose of the online community




Also see CreationMatters:SelfAwareOnlineCommunities

Related topic - CommunicationChannel

Maybe we should start thinking about the GlobalOnlineCommunity. -- HelmutLeitner

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." ..!

-- LionKimbro

The author added the underrepresented part of collaboratively realizing (instead of only sharing) ideas in the sense of BarnRaising. -- FridemarPache


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