background image
digital dark ages, subversive born-digital high
cultural artists, digital happenings, the notion of
impermanence `baked' into tangible modern art,
Internet `spam' as chromatic art and virtual orchestra
Napier University's social informatics researcher
Hazel Hall
pulled them back to virtual communi-
ties, asking: `Shouldn't we be looking at the user base
as well as the artefacts, because that is where a lot of
new things can happen?'
Jerusalem curator Susan Hazan agreed. A digital
community was one where the power of the `virtual
moment' was passed to the contributor. She descri-
bed it as: `The agency that has been transferred from
a central control to the periphery.'
Dr Nils Tomes, Director of e-Networks and
Communications for the British Council,
up the point: `Virtual communities are channels
to a constituency, to an audience.They are means
for discussing something, initiating something,
continuing and closing something.We have to
think in terms of how these different channels
weave together or whether they are things in
their own right,' she said.
`Is a virtual community something that has a wall
or is it one amongst many ways in which users can
deal with collections they want to access? What is
there about the community that we create around
these collections that will help people move from
one communication channel on to another, one
dimension to another?'
Dr Karp warned against too large virtual
community groups. `More than 200 people
cannot possibly be cohesive enough for some
of the problems we are describing,' he said.
150 G
oderator Nyíri had a useful benchmark for
group numbers, 150, the number suggested
in a book by British primatologist, Robin Dunbar,
Grooming, Gossip and Evolution of Language.
Moderator said, `The thesis is that cognitively
speaking the human brain cannot cope with more
than 150 people as a circle to whom to turn for
advice. Firms with more than 150 staff acquire a
more rigid, bureaucratic structure. Under 150 you
can have an informal firm.The same number appears
in scientific organisations.Those people who really
work together on a sub-disciplinary problem would
be 150. If there are more, the sub-discipline breaks up
and you have two research directions.'
Hazel Hall remembered that the same was true in
primitive tribes and, indeed, for a manufacturing
company who built a new factory whenever staff at a
site exceeded around 150. It was, she said, a question
of trust. `In a group of 150, you cannot misbehave
without other people knowing or you cannot not
contribute without other people knowing.'
DigiCULT Project Manager, John Pereira, of
Salzburg Research, the Forum co-ordinators,
characterised the virtual community as `the sum of
activities based on agreed technologies by people
with common motivations towards a common goal'.
He went on: `What interests me is what drives and
sustains a virtual community and what are its goals
both individual and combined.'
`Exactly!' said Ms Hall. `It is the social infra-
structure of the community that is important.'
Concord was bursting out all over and Forum
Five was on a roll.
UNESCO's Isabelle Vinson agreed, too. She urged:
`The substance of a virtual community is the people.
People are brought together around a subject, to
share information and new interpretations of mean-
ing. It is the added value of a virtual community. It
relates to intangible functions like sharing ideas and
creating new meanings.'
Dr Nils Tomes had an example of that from her
days on a Scottish project to teach upper secondary
school pupils online or in class. Her study of the
learners showed they interacted with others working
online as well as their teachers and classmates.
British Council,
Professor Robin Ian
MacDonald Dunbar:
Grooming, Gossip and
Evolution of Language,
Faber and Faber Ltd,
London, 1996;
review, URL:
From: Memories From the
Islands: Newspaper, story
contributed to Moving
Here by Haringey
University of Third Age,
Digicult_THI5_JS_090104 09.01.2004 14:33 Uhr Seite 14