The Internet and Communities: Outline

To begin this series of posts, I will begin by drawing upon a diagram I have, by Suzanne Keller (sociologist who focuses on the notions and theories of communities) titled ‘Building Blocks of Community’. Below are the building blocks which, when combined, create the ‘transendant spirit of community’ in the real world. I, however, will be applying these building blocks to the Internet, the e-Community, and the various e-communities that many of us encounter and participant in.

But first, I should outline some some clarifying definitions that you will need from this point on. I’ve come up with these out of my long thoughts on this subject, and feel that both these terms need to be used and distinct from one-another. Here they are:

  • The e-Community: The broad, all encompassing community of the Internet. Simply owning a modem and engaging in online activities to any degree makes you part of the e-Community. Not the capital ‘C’, and;
  • The e-communities: A general term used to describe the various types of specific communities that exist as the parts of the e-Community. So saying ‘There are more participants of text-based e-communities’ is akin to saying ‘There are more participants of the blogging, roleplaying, text-based instant messages, etc. … communities’.

Ok, so here are the building blocks I want to manipulate and apply to the Internet. Below the headings you will find a short statement about how I understand each topic, and how I intend to handle it (for now).

Turf/Territory

There is a single ‘area’ of ‘turf’ or ‘territory’ that defines the Internet (which obviously doesn’t physically exist), and thus the extent and bounds of the communities formed ‘on’ it can have some sort of definition. However, even in this one, large area there are dozens of let’s say sub-plots that are defined by various characteristics. How to clearly explain this. Think of a block of land – that’s the Internet. Then divide that into three – these are the 3 general term communities that exist. Then divide each of these into a dozen – these are the more specific communities. And so forth. This is how I understand the turf/territory of the Internet. But further, for the purpose of these posts, I propose splitting Keller’s proposal of a turf/territory into turf which creates territory. Territory, in the case of this topic, is the Internet as a whole. The e-Community, the broad and all-encompassing term that collects bloggers, forums, roleplayers, YouTubers, Facebook, and the like in one basket, exists on the Internet – the territory we are dealing with.

I have chosen territory as the label for the larger concept because historically it has been a term used to describe a larger area. If the Internet was to exist as a physical place, it would be huge; certainly the size of a country. Turf, on the other hand, is a smaller idea. People have their own turf, they stake a claim on turf and build a home. This idea, that people ‘own’ turf but exist in a territory will be important in the future of these posts. In sum, break the Internet down into the different ‘areas’ and you get turf. So the blogging community is turf in relation to the Internet’s territory. I am debating whether to say that an individual blog is turf in relation to both the blogging community and the Internet, but am undecided as of yet.

Criteria of Membership

To be a member of the broad e-Community, there is an obvious ‘criterion’ to fulfill. To participate in smaller, more ‘niche’ or defined communities, you need to fulfill a stricter and more precise criteria. The criterion changes and becomes more detailed as the communities get more and more exclusive, change turf, or purpose and function. Criteria are both strict and fluid, and evolve as the communities, and the Internet, itself evolves.

Institutional Framework

This could be the most complicated, ill-defined area on the Internet. However, when you are part of an e-community, you know that there is a framework there in which you, and those around you, are meant to behave. But often, so very often, we have examples of a break in adherence to the framework.

Cultural Values

Probably one of the most difficult to nail down, the culture of the Internet varies from place to place and participant to participant. But a culture does exist, it is almost undeniable. But one that is both common to people in  the offline world and unique to the online world. Searching for both these characteristics will be important in determining how e-

Belief System

A difficult area arises when we look at belief systems in the e-Community. It can work in two ways – traditional belief systems that people form e-communities based on their shared real-world beliefs, or; belief in the existence of the e-Community and your participation in it. I suspect there are many people who interact on the Internet, within the e-Community who do not identify with it, nor would they even acknowledge its existence. Therefore, I will endeavour to examine the notion of ‘a belief system’, when I come to it, more-so along the lines of the latter (belief in the e-Community), whereas communities formed around shared real-life beliefs will be examined more in-depth in criteria of membership.

Myth and Image of Community

The myth of the e-Community is slowly dying. I can remember a time where people had their doubts about it being an independent community or a subculture. I suspect that there was a time when people who now identify as part of the larger e-Community acted and adhered to the subculture framework. Nevertheless, the self-supported e-Community is now coming to to exist as part of the larger myth of communities in general, where different ‘rules’ apply to it. I hope to go into these rules, and see if this new, 21st century community break some of the rules that the historical notion of community was subject to.

As for the image of the e-Community, I would like to inspect and investigate this first. I expect that detailing how this community exists, where it exists, how it is conceptualised and who contributes to its image would give a focus to this long investigation, as well as define some parameters that I will require for this pseudo-research. I anticipate that my borders and boundaries of the e-Community will not be universally accepted, nor will they be absolute. However, in dealing with such a large concept, I hope that discrepancies lie in the smaller details, so that agreement can be reached on the medium to long view of the topic.

Rituals and Celebrations

For anyone part of an e-community, they will understand and will actually be able to point out some of the rituals and celebrations that they take part in. For people on the outside looking in, they may not see them as such, or not understand why they are significant. Hopefully I can get to the bottom of why some online behaviours have taken on significance after examining a few examples out there which I have encountered. This will probably be the most insightful topic for people not fully immersed in various e-communities. I suspect some of my examples from roleplaying will be pseudo-education and entertaining for some readers.

Leadership Structure

When I think about the various e-communities I have been/am a member of, I can trace 2 types of leadership structures – an informal one and a formal one. And, to complicate matters, they are fluid and rigid to various degrees over various e-communities. Explaining how they work, how they are subverted, and how they enforce their rules will, I anticipate, show that the e-Community acts in the same way as the real world communities do in this regards.

Modes of relatedness

This is going to be basic and simple to begin with. I will examine the ways of communication in various communities, and how relatedness evolves from this. It varies, from mode of communication to mode, across communities (in my experience) directly as a result of the modes. This will undoubtedly be a difficult topic to conceptualise and write about without further research, though I will aim to keep it simple in the beginning (just to complete the first post on the topic of the series).

Thomas.

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2 thoughts on “The Internet and Communities: Outline

  1. I am really looking forward to seeing this develop in future entries, as I just said on Google Reader too.

    But the feral pedant strikes again: put it down to my classical education not long after the Principate of Augustus… 😉 Criterion is singular and criteria is plural. (End of Greek lesson.)

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