Which Virtual Communities?

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Once the ethnographer has ‘arrived’ on the Internet, familiar methodological difficulties arise. The range of options that present themselves on the Internet is bewilderingly large. The first task is to define a boundary to the scope of the fieldwork. This is a difficult process on the Internet, since there are no geographical boundaries to set physical limits on what can be studied. In the electronic ‘space’ of the Internet, everywhere is equidistant from everywhere else.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The criteria by which virtual community boundaries are determined are technical ones; they depend on means of communication rather than physical or temporal location for their limits. This poses difficult questions regarding the extent to which they can indeed be called ‘communities’. However, so that fieldwork could commence immediately, this enquiry was guided by Martin Buber’s assertion that “community is where community happens.” [cited in Turner 1969: 113]

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This paper looks at two different kinds of communicative activity on the Internet. First are the mailing lists to which anyone with an email address can subscribe. They are either moderated or unmoderated, such that the content and membership is either controlled or uncontrolled:

  • 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0
  • Project McLuhan is a moderated list which produces a monthly posting to all its members. The list is an compilation of all the correspondence which the list operators have received over the previous month.
  • DIRECT-L is an unmoderated, list for people with a common interest in a piece of software called Director, which is used to create multimedia programs. It is either posted as a daily digest of all the previous day’s activity, or arrives unedited as about two hundred messages a day.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Second are conferencing and newsgroup systems, which allow discussions to take place in a statement and response pattern. Each discussion or ‘thread’ is archived and can be followed from its origins by a newcomer.

  • 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0
  • The Compulink Information eXchange (CIX) is a private computer-conferencing facility based (physically) in Kingston, to the south-west of London. It is accessed directly by telephone, or through telnet., which allows the participant to use CIX’s computer system as if it were the one they were sitting in front of.
  • Usenet is the way in which conferencing takes place on the Internet. Newsgroups are open to anyone who has the appropriate software to look at them. Like mailing lists, they are either moderated or unmoderated, and there are thousands of them.
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Source: http://cpmu.haystack.co.uk/newbie/methodology/which-virtual-communities/