An online community or also called an internet community is a virtual community whose members interact with each other primarily via the Internet. For many, online communities may feel like home, consisting of a "family of invisible friends". Those who wish to be a part of an online community usually have to become a member via a specific site and necessarily need an internet connection. An online community can act as an information system where members can post, comment on discussions, give advice or collaborate. Commonly, people communicate through social networking sites, chat rooms, forums, e-mail lists and discussion boards. People may also join online communities through video games, blogs and virtual worlds. Constance Elise Porter from the University of Notre Dame in a paper entitled A Typology of Virtual Communities: A Multi-Disciplinary Foundation for Future Research offers this definition: "a virtual community is defined as an aggregation of individuals or business partners who interact around a shared interest, where the interaction is at least partially supported and/or mediated by technology and guided by some protocols or norms".
2 Classification 3 Building communities
3.1 Participation 3.2 Aspects of successful online communities
4 Membership lifecycle
4.1 Newcomers (Inbound)
5 Roles in an online community 6 Motivations and barriers to participation 7 Consumer-vendor interaction 8 Growth cycle 9 Online learning community 10 Online health community 11 Problems
11.1 Trolling and harassment 11.2 Hazing 11.3 Privacy
12 Legal issues 13 See also 14 References 15 Further reading 16 External links
Categorization The idea of a community is not a new concept. On the telephone, in ham radio and in the online world, social interactions no longer have to be based on proximity; instead they can literally be with anyone anywhere. The study of communities has had to adapt along with the new technologies. Many researchers have used ethnography to attempt to understand what people do in online spaces, how they express themselves, what motivates them, how they govern themselves, what attracts them, and why some people prefer to observe rather than participate. Online communities can congregate around a shared interest and can be spread across multiple websites. Some signs of community are:
Content: articles, information, and news about a topic of interest to a group of people. Forums or newsgroups and email: so that community members can communicate in delayed fashion. Chat and instant messaging: so that community members can communicate more immediately.
There is a set of values known as netiquette (or Internet etiquette)
to consider as an online community develops. Some of these values
include: opportunity, education, culture, democracy, human services,
equality within the economy, information, sustainability, and
communication. An online community's purpose is to serve as a
common ground for people who share the same interest(s).
Online communities may be used as calendars to keep up with events
such as upcoming gatherings or sporting events. They also form around
activities and hobbies. Many online communities relating to health
care help inform, advise and support patients and their families.
Students can take classes online and they may communicate with their
professors and peers online. Businesses have also started using online
communities to communicate with their customers about their products
and services as well as to share information about the business. Other
online communities allow a wide variety of professionals to come
together to share thoughts, ideas and theories.
The Big Man (offer a form of order and stability to the community by absorbing many conflictual situations personally) The Sorcerer (will not engage in reciprocity with others in the community) The Trickster (generally a comical yet complex figure that is found in most of the world's culture)
Communities of transaction emphasize the importance of buying and selling products in a social online manner where people must interact in order to complete the transaction. Communities of interest involve the online interaction of people with specific knowledge on a certain topic. Communities of fantasy encourage people to participate in online alternative forms of reality, such as games where they are represented by avatars. Communities of relationship often reveal or at least partially protect someone's identity while allowing them to communicate with others, such as in online dating services.
Membership lifecycle Amy Jo Kim's membership lifecycle states that members of online communities begin their life in a community as visitors, or lurkers. After breaking through a barrier, people become novices and participate in community life. After contributing for a sustained period of time they become regulars. If they break through another barrier they become leaders, and once they have contributed to the community for some time they become elders. This life cycle can be applied to many virtual communities, most obviously to bulletin board systems, but also to blogs, mailing lists (list serve) and wiki-based communities like. A similar model can be found in the works of Lave and Wenger, who illustrate a cycle of how users become incorporated into virtual communities using the principles of legitimate peripheral participation. They suggest five types of trajectories amongst a learning community:
Peripheral (i.e. Lurker) – An outside, unstructured participation Inbound (i.e. Novice) – Newcomer is invested in the community and heading towards full participation Insider (i.e. Regular) – Full committed community participant Boundary (i.e. Leader) – A leader, sustains membership participation and brokers interactions Outbound (i.e. Elder) – Process of leaving the community due to new relationships, new positions, new outlooks
The following shows the correlation between the learning trajectories and Web 2.0 community participation by using the example of YouTube. Peripheral (Lurker) – Observing the community and viewing content. Does not add to the community content or discussion. The user occasionally goes onto YouTube.com to check out a video that someone has directed them to. Inbound (Novice) – Just beginning to engage the community. Starts to provide content. Tentatively interacts in a few discussions. The user comments on other user's videos. Potentially posts a video of his or her own. Insider (Regular) – Consistently adds to the community discussion and content. Interacts with other users. Regularly posts videos. Either videos they have found or made themselves. Makes a concerted effort to comment and rate other users' videos. Boundary (Leader) – Recognized as a veteran participant. Connects with regulars to make higher concepts ideas. Community grants their opinion greater consideration. The user has become recognized as a contributor to watch. Possibly their videos are podcasts commenting on the state of YouTube and its community. The user would not consider watching another user's videos without commenting on them. Will often correct a user in behavior the community considers inappropriate. Will reference other user's videos in their comments as a way to cross link content. Outbound (Elders) – Leave the community. Their interests may have changed, the community may have moved in a direction that they don't agree with or they may no longer have time to maintain a constant presence in the community. Newcomers (Inbound) Newcomers are important for online communities. Online communities rely on volunteers' contribution, and most online communities face high turnover rate as one of their main challenges. For example, only a minority of users contribute regularly, and only a minority of those contributors participate in community discussions. In one study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, they found that "more than two-thirds (68%) of newcomers to Usenet groups were never seen again after their first post". Above facts reflect a point that recruiting and remaining new members have become a very crucial problem for online communities: the communities will eventually wither away without replacing members who leave. Newcomers are new members of the online communities and thus often face many barriers when contributing to a project, and those barriers they face might lead them to give up the project or even leave the community. By conducting a systematic literature review over 20 primary studies regarding to the barriers faced by newcomers when contributing to the open source software projects, Steinmacher et al. identified 15 different barriers and they classified those barriers into five categories as described below.
Social Interaction: this category describes the barriers when newcomers interact with existing members of the community. The three barriers that they found have main influence on newcomers are: "lack of social interaction with project members", "not receiving a timely response", and "receiving an improper response". Newcomers' Previous Knowledge: this category describes the barriers which is regarding to the newcomers' previous experience related to this project. The three barriers they found classified into this part are: "lack of domain expertise", "lack of technical expertise", and "lack of knowledge of project practices". Finding a Way to Start: this category describes the issues when newcomers try to start contributing. The two barriers they found are: "Difficulty to find an appropriate task to start with", and "Difficulty to find a mentor". Documentation: documentation of the project also shown to be barriers for newcomers especially in the Open Source Software projects. The three barriers they found are: "Outdated documentation","Too much documentation", and "Unclear code comments". Technical Hurdles: technical barriers are also one of the major issue when newcomers start contributing. This category includes barriers: "Issues setting up a local workspace", "Code complexity" and "Software architecture complexity".
Because of the barriers described above, it is very necessary that online communities engage newcomers and help them to adjust to the new environment. From online communities' side, new comers can be both beneficial and harmful to online communities. On the one side, newcomers can bring online communities innovative ideas and resources. On the other side, their misbehavior caused by lack experiences can be also harmful to communities. Kraut et al. defined five basic issues faced by online communities when dealing with newcomers, and proposed several design claims for each problem in their book Building Successful Online Communities.
Recruitment. Online communities need to keep recruiting new members in the face of high turnover rate of their existing members. Three suggestions are made in the book:
Interpersonal recruitment: recruit new members by old members' personal relationship Word of mouth recruitment: new members will join in the community because of the word-of-mouth influence from existing member Impersonal advertisement: although the direct effect is weaker than previous two strategies, impersonal advertising can effectively increase number of people joining among potential members with little prior knowledge of the community.
Selection. Another challenge for online communities is to select the members who are a good fit. Unlike the offline organizations, the problem of selecting right candidates is more problematic for online communities since the anonymity of the users and the ease of creating new identities online. Two approaches are suggested in the book:
Self-selection: make sure that only good fit members will choose to join. Screen: make sure that only good fit members will allow to join.
Keeping Newcomers Around. Before new members start feel the commitment and do major contribution, they must be around long enough in online communities to learn the norms and form the community attachment. However, majority of them tend to leave the communities at this period of time. At this period of time, new members are usually very sensitive to either positive or negative evidence they received from group, which may largely impact the users' decision on whether they quit or stay. Authors suggested two approaches:
Entry Barriers: Higher entry barriers will be more likely to drive away new members, but those members who survived from this severe initiation process should have stronger commitment than those members with lower entry barriers. Interactions with existing members: communication with existing member and getting respond from them in friendly environment encourage the new members commitment. The existing members are encouraged to treat the newcomers gently. One research did by Halfaker et al. mentioned in the book suggested reverting new members' work in will likely to make them leave the communities. Thus, new members are more likely to stay and develop commitment if the interaction between existing member and new members are friendly and gentle. The book suggested different ways, including "introduction threads" in the communities, "assign the responsibilities of having friendly interactions with newcomers to designed older-timers", and "discouraging hostility towards newcomers who make mistakes".
Socialization. Different online communities have their own norms and regulations, and new members need to learn to participate in an appropriate way. Thus, socialization is a process through which new members acquire the behaviors and attitude essential to playing their roles in a group or organization. Previous research in organizational socialization demonstrated that newcomers' active information seeking and organizational socialization tactics are associated with better performance, higher job satisfaction, more committed to the organization, more likely to stay and thus lower turnover rate. However, this institutionalized socialization tactics are not popular used in online setting, and most online communities are still using the individualized socialization tactics where newcomers being socialized individually and in a more informal way in their training process. Thus, in order to keep new members, the design suggestions given by this book are: "using formal, sequential and collective socialization tactics" and "old-timers can provide formal mentorship to newcomers." Protection. Newcomers are different from the existing members, and thus the influx of newcomers might change the environment or the culture developed by existing members. New members might also behave inappropriately and thus be potential harmful to online communities as a result of their lack of experience. Different communities might also have different level of damage tolerance, some might be more fragile to newcomers' inappropriate behavior (such as open source group collaboration software project) while others are not (such as some discussion forums). So the speed of integrating new members with existing communities really depends on community types and its goals, and groups need to have protection mechanisms that serve to multiple purposes.
Roles in an online community Although online societies differ in content from real society, the roles people assume in their online communities are quite similar. Elliot Volkman points out several categories of people that play a role in the cycle of social networking, these include:
Community architect – Creates the online community, sets goals and decides the purpose of the site. Community manager – Oversees the progress of the society. Enforces rules, encourages social norms, assists new members, and spreads awareness about the community. Professional member – This is a member who is paid to contribute to the site. The purpose of this role is to keep the community active. Free members – These members visit sites most often and represent the majority of the contributors. Their contributions are crucial to the sites' progress. Passive lurker – These people do not contribute to the site but rather absorb the content, discussion, and advice. Active lurker – Consumes the content and shares that content with personal networks and other communities. Power users – These people push for new discussion, provide positive feedback to community managers, and sometimes even act as community managers themselves. They have a major influence on the site and make up only a small percentage of the users.
Motivations and barriers to participation Main article: Motivations for online participation Successful online communities motivate online participation. Methods of motivating participation in these communities have been investigated in several studies. There are many persuasive factors that draw users into online communities. Peer-to-peer systems and social networking sites rely heavily on member contribution. Users' underlying motivations to involve themselves in these communities have been linked to some persuasion theories of sociology.
According to the reciprocation theory, a successful online community must provide its users with benefits that compensate for the costs of time, effort and materials members provide. People often join these communities expecting some sort of reward. The consistency theory says that once people make a public commitment to a virtual society, they will often feel obligated to stay consistent with their commitment by continuing contributions. The social validation theory explains how people are more likely to join and participate in an online community if it is socially acceptable and popular.
One of the greatest attractions towards online communities is the
sense of connection users build among members. Participation and
contribution are influenced when members of an online community are
aware of their global audience.
The majority of people learn by example and often follow others,
especially when it comes to participation. Individuals are
reserved about contributing to an online community for many reasons
including but not limited to a fear of criticism or inaccuracy. Users
may withhold information that they don't believe is particularly
interesting, relevant, or truthful. In order to challenge these
contribution barriers, producers of these sites are responsible for
developing knowledge-based and foundation-based trust among the
Users' perception of audience is another reason that makes users
participate in online communities. Results showed that users usually
underestimate their amount of audiences in online communities. Social
media users guess that their audience is 27% of its real size.
Regardless of this underestimation, it is shown that amount of
audience affects users' self-presentation and also content production
which means a higher level of participation.
There are two types of virtual online communities (VOC): dependent and
self-sustained VOCs. The dependent VOCs are those who use the virtual
community as extensions of themselves,[clarification needed] they
interact with people they know. Self-sustained VOCs are communities
where relationships between participating members is formed and
maintained through encounters in the online community. For all
VOCs, there is the issue of creating identity and reputation in the
community. People can create whatever identity they would like to
through their interactions with other members. The username is what
members identify each other by but it says very little about the
person behind it. The main features in online communities that attract
people are a shared communication environment, relationships formed
and nurtured, a sense of belonging to a group, the internal structure
of the group, common space shared by people with similar ideas and
interests. The three most critical issues are belonging, identity, and
interest. For an online community to flourish there needs to be
consistent participation, interest, and motivation.
Research conducted by Helen Wang applied the Technology Acceptance
Model to online community participation. Internet self-efficacy
positively predicted perceived ease of use. Research found that
participants' beliefs in their abilities to use the internet and
web-based tools determined how much effort was expected. Community
environment positively predicted perceived ease of use and usefulness.
Intrinsic motivation positively predicted perceived ease of use,
usefulness, and actual use. The technology acceptance model positively
predicts how likely it is that an individual will participate in an
Establishing a relationship between the consumer and a seller has
become a new science with the emergence of online communities. It is a
new market to be tapped by companies and to do so, requires an
understanding of the relationships built on online communities. Online
communities gather people around common interests and these common
interests can include brands, products, and services.:50 Companies
not only have a chance to reach a new group of consumers in online
communities, but to also tap into information about the consumers.
Companies have a chance to learn about the consumers in an environment
that they feel a certain amount of anonymity and are thus, more open
to allowing a company to see what they really want or are looking for.
In order to establish a relationship with the consumer a company must
seek a way to identify with how individuals interact with the
community. This is done by understanding the relationships an
individual has with an online community. There are six identifiable
relationship statuses: considered status, committed status, inactive
status, faded status, recognized status, and unrecognized
status.:56 Unrecognized status means the consumer is unaware of
the online community or has not decided the community to be useful.
The recognized status is where a person is aware of the community, but
is not entirely involved. A considered status is when a person begins
their involvement with the site. The usage at this stage is still very
sporadic. The committed status is when a relationship between a person
and an online community is established and the person gets fully
involved with the community. The inactive status is when an online
community has not relevance to a person. The faded status is when a
person has begun to fade away from a site.:57 It is important to
be able to recognize which group or status the consumer holds, because
it might help determine which approach to use.
Companies not only need to understand how a consumer functions within
an online community, but also a company "should understand the
communality of an online community":401 This means a company must
understand the dynamic and structure of the online community to be
able to establish a relationship with the consumer. Online communities
have cultures of their own, and to be able to establish a commercial
relationship or even engage at all, one must understand the community
values and proprieties. It has even been proved beneficial to treat
online commercial relationships more as friendships rather than
Through online engagement, because of the smoke screen of anonymity,
it allows a person to be able to socially interact with strangers in a
much more personal way.:69 This personal connection the consumer
feels translates to how they want to establish relationships online.
They separate what is commercial or spam and what is relational.
Relational becomes what they associate with human interaction while
commercial is what they associate with digital or non-human
interaction. Thus the online community should not be viewed as "merely
a sales channel".:537 Instead it should be viewed as a network for
establishing interpersonal communications with the consumer.
No physical boundaries: Online communities do not limit their membership nor exclude based on where one lives. Supports in-class learning: Due to time constraints, discussion boards are more efficient for question & answer sessions than allowing time after lectures to ask questions. Build a social and collaborative learning experience: People are best able to learn when they engage, communicate, and collaborate with each other. Online communities create an environment where users can collaborate through social interaction and shared experiences. Self-governance: Anyone who can access the internet is self-empowered. The immediate access to information allows users to educate themselves.
These terms are taken from Edudemic, a site about teaching and learning. The article "How to Build Effective Online Learning Communities" provides background information about online communities as well as how to incorporate learning within an online community. Online health community Online health communities is one example of online communities which is heavily used by internet users. A key benefit of online health communities is providing user access to other users with similar problems or experiences which has a significant impact on the lives of their members. Through people participation, online health communities will be able to offer patients opportunities for emotional support and also will provide them access to experience-based information about particular problem or possible treatment strategies. Even in some studies, it is shown that users find experienced-based information more relevant than information which was prescribed by professionals. Moreover, allowing patients to collaborate anonymously in some of online health communities suggests users a non-judgmental environment to share their problems, knowledge, and experiences. Problems Online communities are relatively new and unexplored areas. They promote a whole new community that prior to the Internet was not available. Although they can promote a vast array of positive qualities, such as relationships without regard to race, religion, gender, or geography, they can also lead to multiple problems. The theory of risk perception, an uncertainty in participating in an online community, is quite common, particularly when in the following online circumstances:
performances, financial, opportunity/time, safety, social, psychological loss.
Community members don't wish to violate libertarian ideologies that state everyone has the right to speak. The distributed nature of online communities make it difficult for members to come to an agreement. Deciding who should moderate and how create difficulty of community management.
An online community is a group of people with common interests who use the Internet (web sites, email, instant messaging, etc.) to communicate, work together and pursue their interests over time. Hazing A lesser known problem is hazing within online communities. Members of an elite online community use hazing to display their power, produce inequality, and instill loyalty into newcomers. While online hazing doesn't inflict physical duress, "the status values of domination and subordination are just as effectively transmitted". Elite members of the in-group may haze by employing derogatory terms to refer to newcomers, using deception or playing mind games, or participating in intimidation, among other activities. "[T]hrough hazing, established members tell newcomers that they must be able to tolerate a certain level of aggressiveness, grossness, and obnoxiousness in order to fit in and be accepted by the BlueSky community". Privacy Online communities like social networking websites have a very unclear distinction between private and public information. For most social networks, users have to give personal information to add to their profiles. Usually, users can control what type of information other people in the online community can access based on the users familiarity with the people or the users level of comfort. These limitations are known as "privacy settings". Privacy settings bring up the question of how privacy settings and terms of service affect the expectation of privacy in social media. After all, the purpose of an online community is to share a common space with one another. Furthermore, it is hard to take legal action when a user feels that his or her privacy has been invaded because he or she technically knew what the online community entailed. Creator of the social networking site Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, noticed a change in users' behavior from when he first initiated Facebook. It seemed that "society's willingness to share has created an environment where privacy concerns are less important to users of social networks today than they were when social networking began". However even though a user might keep his or her personal information private, his or her activity is open to the whole web to access. When a user posts information to a site or comments or responds to information posted by others, social networking sites create a tracking record of the user's activity. Legal issues
The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. You may improve this article, discuss the issue on the talk page, or create a new article, as appropriate. (June 2014) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
In the USA, two of the most important laws dealing with legal issues
of online communities, especially social networking sites are Section
512c of the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act
Clan (computer gaming) Commons-based peer production Digital altruism Immersion (virtual reality) Internet activism Internet influences on communities Internet trolling Learner generated context List of virtual communities with more than 100 million users Mass collaboration Network of practice Online community manager Online deliberation
Online ethnography Online research community Professional network service Social media Social web Support groups Tribe (internet) Video game culture
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Social networking services
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Comparison of software Online identity User profile Virtual community 1+ million users 100+ million users
Activity stream Brand page Like button Hashtag Groups Reblogging Polling Internet petitions
Privacy issues User gender difference Use in investigations
Small-world experiment Small-world network Social network Cybersectarianism Panopticon
Distributed Social Networking P