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Virtual communities exist mainly online, but this need not be the only environment
in which they exist. For example, we can use mobile devices to create ad hoc virtual
communities of visitors to heritage institutions and archaeological sites.
Participation in communities allows individuals to exchange opinions, share experiences,
and participate in immersive environments.The development of a community in fact
creates a social circle.These virtual communities need not remain virtual and they can
also engage in real world activity, although this is less common.This is closely connected
to the purposes underlying the development of the community. If an online community
serves all of a user's emotional needs, could these (virtually-created) ties be developed
further in the real world? If the virtual world serves knowledge acquisition needs ade-
quately, is a shift to the real world necessary? Can every user's emotional and knowledge
components be separated neatly?
Opinion is split regarding the influence VCs are likely to have over human lives.
Enthusiasts believe that a new communication model which does not take factors such as
gender, race, location, and age into account will lead to an improvement in communica-
tion, and help people with communication problems to find their place more easily.The
potential for accessing data and software resources enables the development of human
knowledge. On the other hand, some psychologists and sociologists are concerned that
while communicating virtually, many individuals are losing their personal face-to-face
communication skills and use the environment to establish alternative personalities (e.g.
adopting different personalities or even genders in the virtual world). In the former case,
a kind of gradually deepening alienation from the real world has been heralded and in
the latter issues of trust, authenticity, and disjuncture between reality and imagination
arise.
Types of organisations interested in virtual communities
Technologies that enable the development of virtual communities are of value to:
- Governments as a way to promote the growth, take-up and participation in
e-government by the citizen;
- Educational institutions as part of an e-learning strategy;
- Corporations (both profit and not-for-profit) as ways of communicating better with
potential and actual customers;
- Professional associations as a way to advertise and promote their activities.
Cultural heritage institutions could also benefit from these technologies as the sections
that follow demonstrate.
Collaborative Mechanisms
and Technologies
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