Creator of Knowledge
Information Resources Management Association
Advancing the Concepts & Practices of Information Resources Management in Modern Organizations

Online Communities and Community Building

Online Communities and Community Building
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Author(s): Martin C. Kindsmüller (Berlin University of Technology, Germany), Sandro Leuchter (Berlin University of Technology, Germany) and Leon Urbas (Berlin University of Technology, Germany)
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 6
Source title: Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Second Edition
Source Author(s)/Editor(s): Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, D.B.A. (Information Resources Management Association, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch462


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“Online community” is one of today’s buzzwords. Even though superficially it is not hard to understand, the term has become somewhat vague while being extensively used within the e-commerce business. Within this article, we refer to online community as being a voluntary group of users who partake actively in a certain computer-mediated service. The term “online community” is preferred over the term “virtual community,” as it denotes the character of the community more accurately: community members are interacting online as opposed to face to face. Furthermore, the term “virtual community” seems too unspecific, because it includes other communities that only exist virtually, whereas an online community in our definition is always a real community in the sense that community members know that they are part of the community. Nevertheless, there are other reasonable definitions of online community. An early and most influencing characterization (which unfortunately utilizes the term “virtual community”) was coined by Howard Rheingold (1994), who wrote: “…virtual communities are cultural aggregations that emerge when enough people bump into each other often enough in cyberspace. A virtual community is a group of people […] who exchanges words and ideas through the mediation of computer bulletin boards and networks” (p. 57). A more elaborated and technical definition of online community was given by Jenny Preece (2000), which since then, has been a benchmark for developers. She stated that an online community consists of four basic constituents (Preece, 2000, p. 3): 1. Socially interacting people striving to satisfy their own needs. 2. A shared purpose, such as interest or need that provides a reason to cooperate. 3. Policies in the form of tacit assumptions, rituals, or rules that guide the community members’ behavior. 4. A technical system that works as a carrier that mediates social interaction. Not explicitly mentioned in this characterization but nevertheless crucial for our aforementioned definition (and not in opposition to Preece’s position) is voluntary engagement.

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