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Fundamentals collects reflective writing about online life, focusing on the psychology, sociology and anthropology of cyberspace. Pointing the way to the best thinking on the collusion and conflict of virtuality and humanity, Fundamentals explores both the time-honored and the latest theories of life on the 'net. These essays, books, and other works will provoke you to think deeply about our experiences in cyberspace.

I am thrilled to welcome Elizabeth Lewis as the lead Fundamentals writer and researcher. She begins with three entries, focusing on cyberspace governanace, geography and history. All past Fundamentals entries are indexed below. Stay tuned for frequent updates, and welcome, (lizabeth)!

-Jill Davidson
Virtual Community Center Producer

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Problems of Conflict Management in Virtual Communities
Anna DuVal

Smith Case Western Reserve University DRAFT 3.0
Prepared to appear in Peter Kollock and Marc Smith (eds), "COMMUNITIES IN CYBERSPACE"
University of California Press

Conflict is inevitable in virtual communities, and its fair resolution is one of the thorniest issues of their governance. In this paper, Anna DuVal Smith draws on her experiences as a mediator on on MicroMuse (a virtual habitat primarily for kids under 18) to illustrate problems and potential solutions.

Smith does an exceptional job of surveying pertinent social-systems theory on conflict in order to demonstrate how it applies to an online community and where it needs adapting to the medium. Her overview also covers issues of social control and resolution of conflict.

Site administrators can inadvertently increase the conflict they attempt to avoid. When this happens, those who are causing problems are likely to use the very technology that makes virtual communities possible in retaliation. Some admonished users do change their ways, and some leave, but without the thoughtful introduction of conflict resolution mechanisms, many communities can expect a never-ending escalation of problems. Relentless social disorder can cripple or kill a community.

This paper gives careful attention to getting administrators and members to trust the mediation process and the mediator's neutrality. After building such trust and seeing a more positive outcome to conflict, MicroMuse instituted reforms to its system of governance to institutionalize the option of mediation.

Smith concludes that, although mediation and factfinding take longer to accomplish and require more work than simply locking a user out, these methods "successfully reconciled all interests of the participants, furthered mutual understanding and respect, and changed the conduct of the miscreant, resulting in a lasting peace. Additionally, it modeled to one of its young users an effective means of managing social conflict and, therefore, was consistent with the educational mission of the MUSE." -E.L.

An Atlas of Cyberspace

This collection of maps and graphic representations of cyberspace is maintained by Martin Dodge of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London. Each represents the work of "cyber-explorers" who use the techniques of cartography to give a more substantive feel to the experience of being on the net. Each entry has maps that represent the work of various geographers and links to their more extensive sites.

The overarching message here is that the net is vast; any attempt to map it is at best a daunting task. Dodge has collected an eclectic group. Some maps are snapshots of net points of presence and connectivity in years past, an historical atlas that shows just how fast the net has changed in a relatively short period. Other maps are stills from animations of net traffic visualizations or 3D models.

One of the more interesting sets here is Tim Bray's visualizations of the web, calculated from metrics derived by the OpenText search engine. Other maps have faces only a mother geographer could love, such as the HyperSpace Web Visualiser from the University of Birmingham. These maps look more like molecular models from science class -- although they are no doubt accurate, they aren't very communicative to the nongeographer.

The network topology map of JANET, the academic net in the UK, uses the more traditional elements of network images with its familiar cloud and representations of adjoining nets and POPs. These maps would be familiar to data communications engineers, but the rest of us might get more out of the brightly colored, if not sized for scale, maps of net relationships done by John December.

A truly good map is a work of art. This group is no exception. It's possible to linger on this page and its related links for hours, taking it all in.-E.L.

Short History of the Internet
Bruce Sterling

The author of "The Hacker Crackdown" and leading cyberpunk novelist presents a breezy summary of Internet history, originally written for "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction" in February, 1993. Back then, the net was still a realm of gee-whiz for most Americans and Sterling's synopsis provided a quick, if necessarily oversimplified, grounding in what it's all about.

His treatment begins with a summary of the Rand Corporation's early-1960s thinking about how an anarchistic network, freed of a central control, could create a hardy communications system. Sterling explains how early tests of those principles led to the Internet we know today. The article points out that the original networking, although intended primarily to allow use of high-powered computers from remote facilities, rapidly showed its greatest value as a means of communication among people, rather than between users and hardware.

Although Sterling briefly discusses the principles behind TCP/IP, his focus is on the social rather than the technical aspects of Internet development; he concludes that the net is "probably the most important scientific instrument of the late twentieth century." And while the article appeared before the net further exploded with the emergence of the web, it does provide the uninitiated with an understanding of how a system originally designed to facilitate computing rapidly turned into the communications phenomenon we know today.-E.L.

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hduggan said:

One thing about the power divide is that it is created from both sides at once--powerfulness is created by powerlessness is created by powerfulness. You can tear down the divide from either side by simply failing to assume the role. Not fighting it against, but seeing your way around it. Seeing your own power in the larger scheme of things. Seeing this place as a piece of your context, rather then the other way round.

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Topic 37 Problems of Conflict Management in Virtual Communities

Topic 43 Mine is a culture of conflicts

Topic 5 Books On Cyberspace -- The Good, The Bad, The Incredible

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