Viewpoints about Changing Aspects of Community in Light of Computer-Mediated Communication Technology: Since the development of "information superhighway", computer networks have grabbed enormous public attention. One of the interesting issues related to the Internet is " what kind of community do people create with networks?"

A series of scholars have tried to described or defined virtual communities. They noted the absence of a spatial dimension while making their arguments. These viewpoints includes: 

McLuhan: The development of electronic communication technologies has abrogated space and time so that we effectively live in a boundless "global village."

Boorstin: Communication technology created ties bind nations into a new type of community with shared utopian experience. It brings nation together and narrows the differences in people's experiences. Boorstin termed this community the "Republic of Technology."

Meyrowtiz: Electronic media undermined the relationship between location and access to information in a community. Communication technology allows people experience and interact with others regardless physical isolation.

Luke: The expansion of communication technology has resulted in the creation of a "new class" of the information-elite that constitutes a tribal community. It inevitably disenfranchises the information poor. Thus new communication technologies can both draw people together into cohesive communities of interest and further atomize them as they retreat into tribalism.

On the other hand, there are scholars believing the virtual community occurring in the Internet shared certain characteristics with real communities. These viewpoints includes: 

Van Vliet and Burgers: Virtual community encompasses the economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions of community.

Rheingold: Virtual communities is social aggregations that emerge from the Internet when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough to form webs of personal relationships on cyberspace. 

Rheingold claims that his sense of place within his experience in virtual community is strong. It is similar to a salon or coffee shop where he debates philosophical or political issues with his friends. He argued that "the ability to network, gain knowledge, or find communication within cyberspace is the social glue that binds formerly isolated individuals into a community" ( in Fernback and Thompson).

With these descriptions of virtual communities, it is interesting to think of the nature of transnational corporations. Barber argued that a multinational company is a set of temporary relationships connected by communication technology such as computer network. Therefore multinational companies is no longer a physical entity with a stable location. Barber termed it as virtual corporation. Virtual corporation could be viewed as a special kind of virtual communities which penetrate the physical sense of boundaries and can be an object in the topic of virtual community.


Benjamin Barber (1996), Jihad vs. McWorld Ballantine Books, New York.

Fernback and Thompson(1995), Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure? 

Kollock and Smith (1996) Communities in Cyberspace, see

Kollock and Smith(1996), Managing the Virtual Commons: Cooperation and Conflict in the Computer Communities, see

Luke (1993). Community and Ecology. In Walker, Changing Community

Mcluhan (1964).Understanding Media: The Extension of Man. New York McGraw-Hill

Meyrowtiz (1985). No Sense of Place: the Impact of Electronic Media on Social behavior. New York: Oxford University Press

Rheingold (1992). A slice of Life in My virtual Community. Elelctronic maniscrpit

Rheingold (1993). The virtual community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. New York. In Fernback and Thompson, Virtual communities: Abort, Retry , failure? Van Vliet and Burgers (1987): Communities in Transition: >From the industrial to the postindustrial era.

Strange (1996),The Retreat of the State, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Communication Models Within Virtual Community: The formalization of a community is mainly through the process of communication. Therefore it is helpful to look into the communication model while we investigate the virtual community. 

Two Way (Interactive) Communication-the Dynamics of User Control: One of the beneficial effects coming with the communication technology is that users gain more control over the information explosion. AOL, for example, allow their net users to choose which online areas, including finance, sport, medicine, news etc. ) to look around. The chatrooms with specialized topics in it allow users with similar interests to communicate with one another. Thus information users are not passive fed with message chosen by the information producers but are more active in information selection. Moreover, while the users using computer to obtain information, they seem to interact with an artificial person. Therefore communication within virtual community is more two-way and more interactive.

The Role of the Opinion Leader Interpersonal Communication within Physical Community vs. Visual Communication within Virtual Community: In the physical community, interpersonal contact has great influence on people's decision making. Communication researcher proposed that messages from the media first reach opinion leaders, who then pass on what they read or hear to his associates or followers who look to them as influential. Opinion leader is important in giving information to his followers or changing their minds. This is called the two-step flow of communication.

The characteristics of opinion leaders including: they are in high profile position thus other people pay attention or look up to them and want to emulate. Opinion leaders are experts in their area and their leadership tends to be very specific. Opinion leaders enjoy interacting and are enthusiastic about their area of expertise. They have contacts outside and are able to go beyond their knowledge into related areas.

Opinion leader is an important notion in the interpersonal communication in physical communities. In the physical community, people can name from whom they seek information and advice for opinion leader is within their personal contact.

It is interesting to look at two-step information flow and investigate the role of opinion leader in visual communication in virtual communities.

Typically, people in the virtual community tend to be better educated and are in higher socio-economic status so that they have sufficient intellectual and economic access to computer network. The distinctions between early knowers and late knowers of information could be blurred in the virtual communities. Therefore the two-step information flow in the interpersonal communication may not be salient in the visual (Internet) communication. Moreover, members in virtual communities seem to share information rather than give-and-receive information. In other words, they are not rely on some person to give them information. Thus there is a shifting notion of opinion leader in the virtual community. Opinion leader, however, may exist in the virtual community in other forms. System operators, for example, punishing those violating the rules in the bulletin boards may act as opinion leader. But their purpose is to maintain the norm instead of giving information or changing people's mind. The rest of the members in the cyberspace may not look up to system operators and will not want to emulate. The wane of the role of opinion leader reflects the wax of individualism in the virtual community. The egalism growing in the virtual communities could have negative impacts on the real communities. As Rosenau described that authority relations are clear, settled and not subject to re-negotiation." They tend to be rooted in deeply ingrained habits. (p. 389) With the development of individualism, compliance to the norm is not taken for granted. Therefore the social cohesion within a real community is threatened. 


Katz (1957): The two-step flow of communication: An up-to-date report of an hypothesis. Public Opinion Quarterly 21:61-78

Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955): Personal Influence: The part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communication. Free Press.

Krol, E (1992), The Whole Internet: Users¡¦s Guide & Catalog. CA: OReilly & Associates.

Lazarsfled and Menzel (1963): Mass Media and Personal Influence. In W. Schramm, The Science of Human communication. New York.

McQuail and Windahl (1981): Communication Models for the study of Mass Communication. London: Longman

Miller (1960): Information Input overload and Psychopathology. American Journal of Psychiatry.

Rosenau (1990), turbulence in World Politics, Princeton University.

Troldahl and Van Dam: Face-to-face communication about major topics in the news. Public Opinion Quarterly 29:626-634.

Wurman (1989): Information Anxiety. New York.

Last modified: 15 December 1999
Questions or problems? Send e-mail to the Web Honcho.