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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.



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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