Online Communities

Lee Sproull, New York University


Definition and Attributes


Supporting Technologies

General Attributes and Processes

History of Online Communities

Types of Online Communities

Types by Member Interest

Types by Sponsor Interest

Online Community Consequences

Positive Consequences

Negative Consequences

Research Methods and Issues



Cross References



The Internet was not invented as a social technology, but it has turned out to be one. From the earliest days of the ARPAnet (a network of communicating computers established in the late 1960s with U.S. government funding), people have shaped and used the technology for social purposes. Today, millions of people use the Net as a means of making and maintaining connections with other people who share a common experience, interest, or concern. The Net-based social contexts range from family e-mail to fantasy games with hundreds of thousands of players. This chapter focuses on a subset of Net-based social contexts, which in recent years have come to be called “online communities.” These are large voluntary online groups, composed primarily of people who have no preexisting ties with one another and who may never meet face-to-face. Their members interact with one another primarily, if not exclusively, via the Net. Online communities range in technical sophistication from Usenet discussion groups to complex multiplayer fantasy games supported by proprietary software. ...

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