*****  To join INSNA, visit  *****

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"  ;-)

Samer Faraj
Associate Professor
Robert H. Smith School of Business
4321 Van Munching Hall
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742-1815
301-405-7053 TEL
301-405-8655 FAX
sfaraj at

SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social
network researchers ( To unsubscribe, send
an email message to [log in to unmask] containing the line
UNSUBSCRIBE SOCNET in the body of the message.