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At the risk of rekindling a smoldering fire, here are a different set of
two cents. Forgive the soapbox style, I am trying to be succinct.
First, the concept of community while a wonderful label is too broad to be
of much use for research. The term has highly favorable and pro-social
orientation. It is one of the few words that have no negative
connotations. It covers too much grounds for us to develop more than
some generalized observations. As was mentioned before, we need to
develop stronger theories for online communities.
Second, are all online groups communities? Much of the existing research
tags any online 'grouping' as a community. Would we use the same label
for those groupings if they were face to face? Probably not. We have a
complex vocabulary for face to face that differentiates (up to a point)
between task teams, social groups, political committees, quality circles,
social movements, communities of practice, geographic communities,
retirement communities, social networks, etc.
My main point is to stress the need to go beyond the use of "community" as
a label to use in the study of online phenomena. Yes, many online groups
have a "communal feel" to them and yes we want to know how they develop
and sustain themselves. However, we need to get more specific in defining
the phenomenon. A starting point is to realize, or even define because it
is still undefined, the difference between online communities of interest,
of practice, of commerce, of hobbies/gaming, of social support, and
Recognizing that online communities differ, just like their face to face
counterparts should be the starting point. Their membership, their
interactions, the motivation of participants all differ. Just like social
psychologists are careful not to generalize from their research on lets
say small groups to large groups, or from task groups to idea generation
groups, we must be specific about the "community" we are studying.
long time lurker but first time poster to this "community" ;-)
Robert H. Smith School of Business
4321 Van Munching Hall
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742-1815
sfaraj at rhsmith.umd.edu
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