background image
Persian tiles).While institutions can promote the development of virtual communities,
informal study of those currently in use on the Internet does not suggest that this is the
common or the necessary way they come about. A second type of community is formed
around the ability of net-based communication to create social spaces and bring together
actors with an emotional need to fulfil.The emergence and refinement of Internet tech-
nologies has boosted the development of various modes of computer-supported commu-
nication.These days, as the popularity and participation in online communities continues
to grow rapidly new technologies are being created to meet their needs.
Four main categories of technologies support VCs:
1. Asynchronous communications, including email, mailing lists, bulletin boards and news
groups;
2. Synchronous communications, such as chat rooms and internet relay chat (IRC);
3. Peer-to-peer networks, for example, Napster and Kazaa, add distributed resources to
communication channels;
244
4. Virtual worlds, where participants interact via the Internet to develop VCs.Typical of
these are Multi-User Domains (MUDs)
245
and MUDs Object Orientated (MOOs).
Each of these communication mechanisms has a different kind of influence on the
communities which result from their use. For instance, asynchronous communications are
useful for distributing information, but do not give the sense of immediate response,
engagement, and excitement which synchronous communication can offer. Peer-to-peer
networks are ideal for collecting enormous amounts of distributed information from
various sources and although so far widely used for illegal purposes (exchange of music)
they have many legitimate uses. Participants in MOOs and MUDs gain a sense of
belonging to a community with a special ambience or setting and as a result their
immersion can become quite real and tangible.
246
These technologies pose their own
specific problems. For example, peer-to-peer networks, seem inextricably linked in the
minds of many people with copyright infringement, i.e. exchange of files between users
who do not have the rights to share the files. Another typical problem is the distraction
of people from their real work, with IRC often being blamed as a timewaster, and a
number of organisations now prohibiting its use in the workplace.
Viable and effective communities will be built around a central topic, group of topics,
or activity. Successful knowledge-oriented communities create social circuits. These
provide an environment where participants can build on existing knowledge in innova-
tive ways to generate new knowledge from previously untapped sources. All virtual
communities need not be information or resource led; some are centred around more
basic needs of humans to communicate and engage (e.g. play) at a personal level. These,
while not the focus of the discussion here, can also evolve using the same technologies.
That said, there certainly is a role for communities of interest that engage in gossip about
people, issues, and generally share experiences and ideas, much as we might in a conven-
tional environment at the coffee machine, over lunch, or in the lift.
Collaborative Mechanisms
and Technologies
147
244 http://www.napster.com; http://www.kazaa.com
245 Even abbreviations are ambiguous in the virtual world. Other expansions include Multi-User Dimension and
Multi-User Dungeon.
246 In many ways, this is similar to the construction of virtual worlds, as discussed in DigiCULT Technology Watch
Report 1. The specific issues associated with MUDs and MOOs are the subject of many detail psychological,
sociological and anthropological studies which readers may find illuminating.
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