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Online Communities - Essay Example

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Online Communities

He argues that virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Internet when enough people carry on a discussion long enough to form personal relationships. This view remains recognizable in what Preece calls the e-commerce perspective of online communities. The early arguments for regarding virtual communities as a marketing tool took a Spartan view of what constitutes a community. Hagel and Armstrong contend that the community integrates content and communication in a computer mediated space. They put an emphasis on member-generated content; a perspective that may have influenced views that 'any chat or bulletin board' is regarded as a community by businesses. The development of an economic perspective to online communities may be frowned upon by some, but there has been a surge of interest from businesses eager to gain advantage from building relationships with customers. The range of business communities now seen on the Web further complicates the definition of an online community. If it is more than a bulletin board, then the boundaries of the shared space and the nature of the interaction have to be identified. In an example of an embedded business community, Preece examines Rei.com. Rei.com has a link from its homepage to its community page. The Lonely Planet community is more embedded in that it has no separation between community's space and sales space. Jones [14] argues that information exchange is not a sufficiency for a community. This paper takes the perspective that the virtual space of the website constitutes the shared space of Lonely Planet's community. These accords with the view that the business community is more than the interchange of information between customers, that information interchange is in itself insufficient to form a community and that the company itself draws no borders but integrates all its information sources.

Online Business Communities

Despite the different definitions of communities, here is agreement that a significant characteristic of an online community is its reason to exist; that is the common goals or interests of its members. Preece and Maloney- Krichmar describe the different characteristics of various communities, but they also highlight the commonalities that can be found. These commonalities were defined by a multi-disciplined group of academics in 1996. An online community displays:

A shared goal, interest or need
Repeated and active participation by members with strong interaction and emotional ties
Accessibility of shared resources and policies governing the access
Reciprocity of information, support and services
Shared context of social conventions, language and protocols

Members of such communities feel a sense of belonging, a shared history and develop ongoing relationships. There is a growing body of literature on why people contribute to online communities.
One factor is the concept of the gift economy prevalent in the early days of the Internet that leads people to freely contribute. (Werry sees the hijacking of the early 'gift economy' for business purposes as an exploitative move.) The theory of self concept adds to the motivation debate by supporting the view that people contribute for reasons of status and prestige; that is reputation based rewards. A ...Show more

Summary

The term online community means different things to different people. The imprecise term lacks a defined meaning even amongst sociologists although there is consensus that it involves a group of people sharing a common interest. In the physical context, Hillery argues that every community has social interaction, a shared space or location and common obligations and responsibilities…
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