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Virtual Communities
Dimitrios Aftias Juárez
Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa
B.A. in ELT
Subject: Virtual Communities
Instructor: Emigdio Urrea

1. Background

During the last couple of years, the activity in cyberspace has grown in an explosive manner. Today it is very difficult to estimate how many that have access to cyberspace, mainly due to the many definitions of the conceptcyberspace. One estimation would be that five to ten million people have access to Internet, which is a part of cyberspace. There is reason to believe that the number of users will continually grow during the following years. Computers and other equipment get less and less expensive and computer education more common. Furthermore, the prerequisites steadily improve since the computer-networks areextended and improved.
People that inhabit cyberspace use the technology in different ways: they can search information, surf the net just for the fun, download shareware and communicate with others via email, news and BBS. This communication in cyberspace has in some cases become so structured and regular that the conception virtual communities is appropriate. The aim with this tasks is toexamine such a community, to study how the community works and is kept together, why people choose to participate in these abstract forms of community and if virtual communities affect and/or change the habits of its members.

2. Virtual communities

To begin with, what’s a virtual community? Write your own definition and compare.

Since the phenomena "virtual communities" is quite new, theunderstanding of what it is all about is pretty diversified. We will therefore devote this section to define what the concept virtual communities will be for us.
Virtual communities exist mainly in cyberspace. The word cyberspace was first used by science-fiction-author William Gibson in his book Neuromancer (1984). According to Benedict (1991), cyberspace is a virtual world, consisting of computernetworks and different techniques for communication:
"Cyberspace is a globally networked, computer-sustained, computer-accessed, and computer-generated, multidimensional, artificial, or "virtual reality". In this reality, to which every computer is a window, seen or heard objects are neither physical nor, necessarily, representations of physical objects but are, rather, in form, character andaction, made up of data, of pure information."
(Benedict, 1991,p. 122)
From this point forward, the definition of cyberspace will mean the Internet, BBS, WWW and other LAN and WAN.
What are the virtual communities that are being created and developed in cyberspace? Howard Rheingold defines virtual communities as:
"social aggregations that emerge from the [Internet] when enough people carry onthose public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace".
(Rheingold, 1993, p. 5)
He also speaks of virtual communities as "a group of people who may or may not meet one another face to face, and who exchange words and ideas through the mediation of computer bulletin boards and networks." (Rheingold, 1992, p 1).
The community thusconsists of a number of people with regular contact with each other. It is not necessary that these individuals meet face-to-face but the members are related by shared interests, problems or ideas. Some virtual communities have their origin in existing organisations. In these cases the community form a complement to the regular business. The members have not decided on their membership; anemployment in the company involve a membership in the virtual community.
This article however, will focus on a different kind of virtual community, not the kind of virtual community that develop in an existing organisation but are formed by people with similar interests. These communities are built by people that has taken on an active attitude to the community and are voluntarily members.
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