In this digital era, the rapid development of high technology devices and the popularity of the Internet give individuals more opportunities and choices to communicate with the whole world whenever and wherever they are. Human communication media has changed in many ways that people could not only need to communicate with others face to face, but also could use computers, smart phones and other digital devices.
After the declaration of independence in cyberspace made by John Perry Barlow in 1996, which claimed that the invention of the World Wide Web in 1989 gave individuals the chance to build their own community where everyone could express their motions, opinions and beliefs without privilege or prejudice in the cyberspace, was published and popularized into the society, many virtual communities were established.
What is Virtual Community?
Howard Rheingold (1993), a critic who study in modern communication media, gives a definition of virtual community in the book called The Virtual Community that virtual communities are some social aggregations across a number of different disciplines when enough individuals sharing their own opinions, feelings or experiences of a specific interest and build their personal relationships with some invisible friends over the Internet. Compare with the communities in the reality, one virtual community also collects a group of individuals who have the same focus or certain interest(s) and people in the community could help each other to gain knowledge or make some progress. the difference is the virtual communities usually cross the geographical and political boundaries and connect the whole world together via cyberspace.
History of the virtual community
The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, which could be shortened as the WELL, started by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant in 1985, providing individuals with the Internet forums, emails and web pages and Usenet newsgroups, which established in 1979, are seen as the first virtual communities in the cyberspace (Ridings 2006). After that, there are many different kinds of forms of virtual communities, such as message boards, chat rooms and social network sites, like fan-based websites and forums, shown in the virtual world.
In 1990s, people using chat rooms to communicate with each other. For example, America online in 1990s, using a specific word or location as the topic to regulate set up different groups, building a virtual community for ones who share the same interest with each other. However, people could only use words and sentences to communicate with others at that time.
the Blooming Virtual Community
According to Leimeister (2014), the development of the Internet has spurred the significant growth of virtual communities and the importance of the virtual communities are becoming more obviously with the help of the popularity of the World Wide Web. Raging from simple forums, which aim to share the information, to communities that could support the development of a new product.
In the beginning of the 21th century, only ten per cent of the online audiences were viewing Usenet while others shift themselves from viewing static websites to highly interactive ones (Ridings, 2006). From text to emoji to video sharing, the means of online expression in the virtual communities has made big revolution in these years.
With the help of the computer languages like Html 5, JAVA, C#, individuals now could enjoy various of interactive websites, mobile applications and games etc. These technology and languages made the virtual communities now have the ability to allow people to interact through various means, such as using pictures, emoji, or sending videos or audios to others.
Advantages of virtual community
The first advantage of the virtual community is the content showed on the Internet are member-generated, provided by the audiences in the community rather than the site provider. The more content made by the community members themselves would attract more members in return. In the meantime, member-generated content would make it easy to ensure the quality of the information (Hagel& Armstrong, 1997, cited in Ridings 2006).
Second, joining a virtual community could provide individual a sense of social support. House (1981, cited in Ridings, 2006) points out that social support is not only an exchange of information or information of self-evaluation, but also emotional concern and instrumental aid. During the progress of exchanging the ideas or experiences with community members and interacting with others via social platforms, one could easily get emotional attachment and meet his/her basic social needs (Ridings, 2006).
Third, virtual community is a new platform for the Internet users to make friends from all over the world. For example, virtual community provides gamers a chance to make comments , share experiences, and makes it easier to meet individuals with the same interest, especially for people who have unique interest or have isolated jobs (Ridings, 2006) .
A comment from http://steamcommunity.com
However, the rise of virtual community could also cause problems.
Without seeing others face to face, everyone might have a different characteristic in the virtual space, which may lead to fake information online. In addition, someone may steal others information via personal profile and make negative interaction between audiences, like cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking. Moreover, using virtual community is time-consuming and could also cause addiction due to the satisfaction and sense of achievement the community brings.
Traveling, with the benefits of open one’s horizons, get rid of the stress from both work and study, feel the culture from other countries, is always an attractive activity for individuals. In this digital society, people could be the audiences, viewing others’ comments of the travel destination to make the decision or be the producers, making own comments and sharing the experiences. Leimeister (2006) points out that online comments would inspires audience’s fantasy, especially in tourism. And when it comes to Walktheworld, the social media campaign of educational trips for young generations, virtual community plays a more important role in gaining audiences. Programs for kids provided by Walktheworld are a part of the mass tourism, and parents are more cautious with the programs for their children. Thus, building an official community in the virtual space for the audiences and potential audiences like educators and providing a place for them to share the experience of the programs with each other would reduce the fake content online, be more convincing and attract more audiences. In addition, comments made by audiences in virtual community would be a good way for the company to adjust their programs and reshape their social content, which posted on the social platforms. During the progress of making a comment or writing a blog, one could easily get a sense of participation and achievement.
For now, there are billions of virtual communities all over the world. And the most popular one, Facebook, has 1 billion active users per day while Twitter has 100 million users (Craig, 2016).
In conclusion, no matter what individuals are going to do or willing to be in the cyberspace, they would end up building or joining a virtual community of their specific interest. And the social media platforms nowadays, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Wechat etc., are giving audiences freedom to share ideas and develop social relationships and making contribution to the development of the virtual society.
Leimeister, J. M., & Rajagopalan, B. (2014). Virtual communities. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
Rheingold, H. (1993). The virtual community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.
Barlow, J. P. (2015). A declaration of the independence of cyberspace
Ridings, C. M., & Gefen, D. (2004). Virtual community attraction: Why people hang out online. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(1), 0-0. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2004.tb00229.x
Craig Smith (2016), By the numbers: 200+ Amazing Facebook Statistics (January 2016). Retrieved from http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/by-the-numbers-17-amazing-facebook-stats/
Craig Smith (2016), By the numbers: 170+ Amazing Twitter Statistics. Retrieved from http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/march-2013-by-the-numbers-a-few-amazing-twitter-stats/
Link for the video:
A Cyberspace Independence Declaration by John Perry Barlow
Virtual Community and Social Media
What is Virtual community