Identity Workshop: Emergent Social and Psychological Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Reality
- Founder of the MediaMOO, and doctoral student in the Epistemology and Learning Group at MIT's Media Lab, Bruckman wrote this 1992 study to examine the social interaction on TrekMUSE. It is available via ftp and is worth downloading as a relatively early yet through examination of the potential for identity alteration within a MUSE environment.
A Hypertext History of Multi-User Dimensions
- Burka's paper looks at the history of MUDs and addresses some of the social questions that MUD interaction raises. A long-time MUDder and a graduate student at the Northeastern University College of Computer Science, Burka speaks comprehensively and authoritatively about the world of MUDs.
- How the Internet Came to Be, Part 1
How the Internet Came to Be, Part 2
Vinton Cerf, as told to Bernard Aboba
- Many who know of his work call Vinton Cerf the Father of the Internet. Among other achievements, he was a principal developer of ARPANET and is credited with authoring the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) language, which is crucial for Internet functioning. He was there at every step of early Internet development, and his history of the 'net is a technically oriented, detailed, comprehensive narrative of who did what when. "How the Internet Came to Be" outlines the Internet's main players and technology moves as it describes challenges of building the net .
Cerf provides an incredibly detailed wealth of information about the specifics of the development of the 'net. It can change one's perceptions of the Internet: rather than thinking of it as a thing out there, existing autonomously, Cerf' reminds us that the 'net was built, step by step, by people who figured out how to use or invent technology to give birth to a new medium. It is the fruit of brilliance, hard work, and collaboration. N.B.: this piece was last revised in 1992. While the two sections aren't linked together, they form a coherent narrative.
Cyberspace Innkeeping: Building Online Community
John Coate and Hilarie Gardner
- Based on years of experience in the 1980s and 1990s as a founding member of the Well, John Coate wrote "Cyberspace Innkeeping: Building Online Community" to gather his thoughts about creating community on-line. In short order, it became and remains one of the cornerstones of on-line sociology. "Innkeeping" addresses the question of how on-line community works, and what tools are appropriate to support and nurture human connection through computers. Hilarie Gardner's appendix "General Advice for the New Online User" concisely and specifically outlines privacy and other considerations crucial to smart on-line life.
- A Rape in Cyberspace
- "A Rape in Cyberspace: How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society" by Julian Dibbell, was first published in _The Village Voice_ at the end of 1993. As the title indicates, Dibbell's piece analyzes the effects that a virtual rape had on the LambdaMOO community. The piece delves in to specific and well-written detail about the particulars of the actions that were construed as rape, and the community's subsequent reaction. In so doing, he teases out some of the more subtle challenges that a virtual community faces, such as the need for government and decision-making, the problems that are when people use terms that mean a distinct thing (i.e. rape) and apply them to the cyberspace realm and, ultimately, the necessary task of delineating the self (where does the mind stop and the body begin?)
Dibbell eloquently points out how the reality of a MOO exists in the gap between "real life" and cyberspace; "A Rape in Cyberspace" is a good read and a useful case study in managing virtual community conflict. As an interesting follow-up, check out Dibbell's "My Dinner With Catherine MacKinnon And Other Hazards of Theorizing Virtual Rape".
Inhabiting the virtual city: The design of social environments for electronic communities
Judith Stefania Donath
"Inhabiting the virtual city: The design of social environments for electronic communities " is Judith Donath's 1996 MIT doctoral dissertation. Donath's research is based not only on the literature of online and traditional sociology but on her own extensive experience in creating projects such as The Electronic Postcard, Portraits in Cyberspace, Visual Who, and other projects (each of these links leads to Donath's MIT site, and are well worth exploring). " Inhabiting the Virtual City" examines how virtual societies can use technology to indicate social subtleties and how people in virtual space can get a sense of the ebb and flow of their activity, as both of these elements of human interaction are integral to successful socialization when we're not on line.
- Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure?
Jan Fernback & Brad Thompson
- The conclusion of "Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure?" is that though it has advantages, virtual community cannot adequately replace community of the physical realm. Though this may be the intuition of most of us who hang out in cyberspace, it is nevertheless interesting to follow Fernback and Thompson's walk through the sociological literature that describes community and social connection to see how they reached their conclusion.
- "Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure" struggles to take on notably large questions (example: "Do communities within cyberspace have the capability of serving as a series of new public spheres in contemporary Western nations?"). But when the authors focus their attention on more discrete matters, like unpacking the traditional definition of community and comparing what seems to be present online, their work here is quite valuable. For those attempting to think rationally and critically about the virtual community phenomenon, this work is definitely worth a perusal.
Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet
Michael Hauben and Ronda Hauben
- Michael Hauben, working in collaboration with Rhonda Hauben, examines the concept of "netzien," someone who contributes to the collective and cooperative character and functionality of the 'net. This extensive netbook looks at the history and development of Usenet and the Internet and speculates on the future implications of Net citizenship, concluding with a proposed draft Declaration of the Rights of Netizens.
High Noon on the Electronic Frontier
Peter Ludlow, ed.
Peter Ludlow, editor of "High Noon on the Electronic Frontier" (M.I.T. Press, 1996), has put much of his book's text on-line. While our inclusion of the URL is in no way an attempt to discourage purchase of the book, the on-line resource is wonderful. "High Noon on the Electronic Frontier" pulls together readings from Elizabeth Reid, John Perry Barlow, Howard Rheingold, Amy Bruckman, Mike Godwin, Mitch Kapor and others on the subjects of identity on-line, privacy, censorship, hacking/cracking, and on-line property rights. Section Five, "Self and Community Online," is of particular interest to virtual community students.
The Strange Disappearance of Civic America
Robert D. Putnam
- Though it does not mention specific telecommunications technologies until the conclusion, "The Strange Disappearance of Civic America" has emerged since its 1995 publication as an important analysis of the perception that the connections among people in American society began to loosen during the past three decades. Specifically, Putnam examines the fact that group membership across a wide variety of interests and affiliations has been declining steeply.
Like a detective eliminating suspects from an investigation, Putnam examines sociological factors such as the changing role of women, the rise of the welfare state and changes in family and marriage patterns. Ultimately, he eliminates a number of possible causes and like a true cliffhanger, we're left with "our prime suspect": television. Putnam's case for television as the destroyer of the social fabric is brief but strongly argued, and his arguments about television, combined with his citation of political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool's theories about technology, put a potentially positive spin on the fragmenting effects of the electronic communications. The implications of Putnam and de Sola Pool's research suggest that communities of affinity may coalesce in place of communities of geography. Putnam indicates this but simultaneously keeps in mind the darker, atomizing side of technology's effect on human groups.
Electropolis: Communication and Community On
Internet Relay Chat
Elizabeth M. Reid
- "Electropolis," an adaptation of Elizabeth Reid's undergraduate honors thesis, written at the University of Melbourne (Australia) in 1991, has functioned as an influential and groundbreaking work on the norms and implications of Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Acknowledging the limitations of the communication possibilities that IRC offers, Reid demonstrates that IRC still serves to develop community and sustained connection among users and that IRC users find innovative ways to create new conventions and, ultimately, a new culture. Reid demonstrates how IRC "deconstructs social boundaries"; based on that, she characterizes IRC as a postmodern communication form, challenging the traditional methods of history and sociology. The strength of "Electropolis" lies in its dual mission -- Reid not only describes and analyzes IRC effectively (notable especially in 1991, when IRC was less widespread and more of a cult phenomenon) but steps back to comment on the implications of IRC to conventional scholarship.
Voices from the WELL: The Logic of the Virtual Commons
Marc A. Smith
- Cited in Howard Rheingold's "The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Virtual Frontier", Marc Smith's "Voices from the Well" looks at the Well to ascertain how communities generate and maintain the commitment of regular participants. This 1992 paper was among the first to examine the collective behavior of a group in cyberspace. Smith looks at how people on the Well cooperate to attain collective goods, such as the exchange of ideas, to determine the functionality of the Well community, and determines that its relatively anarchic, uncontrolled structure encourages community interaction.
The Psychology of Cyberspace
- The Psychology of Cyberspace is an comprehensive site created by Dr. John Suler, Professor of Psychology at Rider University. Founded at the beginning of 1996, the site aims to create a framework to think about the human psychology in cyberspace in six sections: The Fundamental Psychological Qualities of Cyberspace, The Psychology of the Individual in Cyberspace, The Psychology of Cyberspace Relationships, Group Dynamics in Cyberspace, Research Methods in the Psychology of Cyberspace, and The Palace Study. Combining Rider's analyses and critiques and relevant links to other contributions, the site is a fantastic wealth of information of the impact of cyberspace on the human psyche.
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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