Sociology Index


The terms virtual community, online Community and cybercommunity are used interchangeably as new forms of community within cyberspace. Some of the most pervasive virtual communities are online communities operating under social networking services. The diffusion of the Internet since the early 1990s fostered the proliferation of every type of virtual community catering to every type of special interest in the form of social networking services. A virtual community is a social network of groups of people who interact through specific social media, crossing geographical and political boundaries to pursue mutual interests. Virtual communities are generally dispersed geographically. Online communities are linked geographically, and are known as virtual community websites.

Virtual communities resemble real life communities as they provide support, information, friendship and acceptance between strangers. Virtual community technologies cited include Usenet, MUDs, MOOs, and MUSHes, Internet Relay Chat, chat rooms and electronic mailing lists. Cyberspace cybersociology covers virtual community, online Community and cybercommunity.

Virtual communities all encourage interaction, focusing around a particular taylored academic interest. Some virtual communities are exclusive clubs catering to specific age groups. Virtual Community Members are allowed to interact over a shared passion through message boards, chat rooms, and social networking sites. Virtual communities are used for a variety of social and professional groups; interaction between community members vary from personal to purely formal.

Howard Rheingold discussed virtual communities in his book, The Virtual Community, published in 1993. The book's discussion ranges from Rheingold's adventures on The WELL, computer-mediated communication and social groups and information science. Howard Rheingold also points out the potential benefits for personal psychological well-being, as well as for society at large, of belonging to a virtual community.

Virtual Community Abstracts

The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier
Howard Rheingold, MIT Press.

Howard Rheingold has been called the First Citizen of the Internet. In this book he tours the "virtual community" of online networking. He describes a community that is as real and as much a mixed bag as any physical community—one where people talk, argue, seek information, organize politically, fall in love, and dupe others. At the same time that he tells moving stories about people who have received online emotional support during devastating illnesses, he acknowledges a darker side to people's behavior in cyberspace. Originally published in 1993, The Virtual Community is more timely than ever. This edition contains a new chapter, in which the author revisits his ideas about online social communication now that so much more of the world's population is wired. It also contains an extended bibliography.

Virtual Community Health Promotion
Richard Crespo, PhD.
Social networks constitute another type of virtual community on the Internet. An important characteristic of virtual communities is users' sense of "ownership," the sense that they create and thus "own" the content of a community Web site. In a recent report, an expert panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that public health officials should develop the idea of virtual community health promotion.