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information on specific tasks, professional activities, and practices. A key aim might be to
assist participants to develop skills or have access to sources of guidance. Informational
communities encompass company and customer service sites, information resources, and
weblogs.The distinction between communities of practice and information communities
can easily blur; the reason the community was formed provides the primary focal point
does the community exist purely to supply information, or does it aim to engage mem-
bers in shared development? The third type social communities includes open networks
like Yahoo and MSN
which offer chat, e-mail and topical group building facilities. Here
we could also include networks targeted at relationship building such as and, and business networking communities, such as the Ryze Business Network-
ing Community
Before joining any kind of virtual community, participants must first
agree to abide by the rules and behaviours which the members have established. In some
environments users who behave improperly can be barred.The word `netizen' appeared
in 1994, as a blend of net and citizen, to refer to an active participant in on-line com-
munity of the Internet; this term encapsulates the real world concept of citizenship and
the duties and rights incumbent on a citizen with the concept of virtual communities.
Email and discussion lists
Professionals will already be familiar with email and discussion lists. Discussion lists have
been used in the cultural heritage sector to promote both professional and popular dis-
cussions.They play a role in maintaining the exchange of information on particular topics
(e.g. conservation and preservation) and a mechanism for engaging those with an interest
in heritage institutions in discussion.
By the end of the 1990s there were thousands of
public lists and many more closed ones. Many of these lists are moderated, although not
all. Moderation ensures control of membership and content is maintained. It has the
downside that it can be used to stifle discussion; in general, though, moderated lists are
the more effective communication spaces.
Bulletin board systems
Bulletin boards (BBs), which were commonly used in the 1980s, were one of the first
tools to promote synchronous communication. BBs allowed users to check the notices
on the board and to post their own messages.To do this users had to dial-in and log on
to a remote computer. In many instances it was possible to exchange messages in real
time with other users who were logged on simultaneously. BBs offered users a sense of
control and interactivity unlike discussion lists where they received every message BBs
supported choice, selectivity and topical threads. Participants had access to all the available
information, but they could choose what they wanted.The features of BBs supported
communication mechanism which formed the basis of chat systems.
Collaborative Mechanisms
and Technologies
264 G. Gaia, 2001,`Towards a Virtual Community', Museums and the Web 2001:
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