The Virtual Communities Focus Group was comprised primarily of Karen Holmes, Jaye Lapachet, Steve Mark and Natalie Zee, though we had periodic visits from other interested parties. We met regularly throughout the semester both online and IRL (In Real Life) to discuss the definition, origins, impact on society, and future of virtual communities.
We began the semester by reading Howard Rheingold's "The Virtual Community" (Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1993), and used this work as a guide throughout our discussions. Rheingold, a prominent observer of computer-mediated communication, defines virtual communities as the "social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace." For an interesting look at a particular virtual community, we urge you to read "The Well: Small Town on the Internet" by Cliff Figallo.(firstname.lastname@example.org).
In addition to exploring Rheingold's work, the Virtual Communities Focus Group discussed various pertinent news items both in broadcast and print media. Several conversations in particular revolved around articles in WIRED Magazine.
We also took a tour of a MOO sitel,(moo:purple-crayon.media.mit.edu)
reported to our class about our group discussions, and viewed two science fiction films: "Brazil" and "Until the End of the World", with an emphasis on observing their portrayal of "community" in the future.
The major questions we explored during the semester included:
We concluded the semester by participating (together with Mass Communications 190) in online discussions regarding virtual communities. These discussions were conducted by both Howard Rheingold and Julian Dibbell - author of "A Rape in Cyberspace" (The Village Voice, December 21, 1993).