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Topic 28 of 52: incentives for vc members

Tue, Oct 17, 2000 (10:03) | Luann Vicente (luan)
How do you guys at Spring provide incentives for folks to join?

Can't you give stuff away? Or provide rewards? Or would this degrade the quality of participants.

One hundred vicentedollars to the first person responding!

9 responses total.

 Topic 28 of 52 [vc]: incentives for vc members
 Response 1 of 9: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) * Sun, Jul 14, 2002 (19:56) * 2477 lines 
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 Topic 28 of 52 [vc]: incentives for vc members
 Response 2 of 9: Conf admin  (cfadm) * Tue, Mar  1, 2005 (22:57) * 1 lines 
What was I thinking?

 Topic 28 of 52 [vc]: incentives for vc members
 Response 3 of 9: Conf admin  (cfadm) * Wed, Mar  2, 2005 (14:27) * 100 lines 
The concept of a community as a place where people are bound together geographically has, with the advent of the World Wide Web (WWW), evolved into a concept referring to any group of individuals who socialize, whether it be face to face or through the use of technology. In fact, “nowhere has the mention of community been so ubiquitous as in the virtual world” (Cothrel and Williams, 1999, p.54). Though the term “community” may be broadly applied within terrestrial and virtual realms, its core definition remains constant: all communities deal with people (Boettcher, Duggan, and White, 1999; Cothrel and Williams, 1999; Hamman, undated; Lally and Barrett, 1999; Schwier, in press).

Online communities are a “gathering of people, in an online ‘space’ where they communicate, connect, and get to know each other better over time.” (Boettcher, Duggan, and White, 1999). Such online spaces may include synchronous forums such as chat rooms, or asynchronous forums such as listservers, bulletin boards, and message boards. The purposes of online communities are varied. Some communities result from a desire to discuss an issue of common interest, while others provide a place for social clubs or organizations to plan and coordinate events. An online community may simply be a gathering place where people meet and converse on a regular basis. The concept of online community continues to emerge and develop. Julie Gomell, producer of Excite’s “People and Chat” channel states, “Community is an area that’s very popular right now, yet it is also unproven. That means we get to experiment, which is a lot of fun . . . . It’s a constant learning experience” (Ten Tips for Building, undated).

One type of community that has developed as technology has become increasingly accessible and familiar has been the online, or virtual, learning community. A virtual learning community (VLC) is described as a learning environment “based on shared purpose rather than geography” (Schwier, in press). “Learning” is the key term differentiating a general online community and a virtual learning community (Schwier, 2001,). McLellan (1998) describes a VLC as a place to encourage student participation and collaboration without individual competition. Whether the purpose of the VLC be for corporate staff development or the offering of university courses, the intent of the VLC is to support a community of learners (McLellan, 1998).

While online communities are tailored to fulfill a variety of different purposes, a VLC is tailored to emphasize learning, yet both types of community have similar characteristics leading to their success. The purpose of this paper is examine characteristics which describe the development, maintenance and evaluation of a successful virtual learning community.

Developing a Succesful VLC

Peter Kollock (1996, p.1) laments:

What makes for a successful learning community is often poorly

understood. At this time, the tendency of those involved in building

graphical virtual worlds is to create visually compelling worlds

that look good, but do a poor job of fostering social interaction.

Many of these communities have more in common with

lonely museums than with the vibrant communities they set out

to create.

The creation of a vibrant, meaningful learning community requires more than posting a course outline, readings, and assignments to the World Wide Web. As Kollock states, a VLC must be designed to include social interaction amongst the participants, a factor considered critically important to a VLC’s success (Ten Tips for Building, undated; Cothrel and Williams, 1999; Kimball, 1995; Lally and Barrett,1999; Schwier, in press; White, 2000; ). In fact, social exchanges by individual students are an important part of the formal, group interaction. They help build a sense of trust and respect among the community members. (Lally and Barrett, 1999; Winner-White and Shields, undated). Cothrel and Williams (1999, p.57) observe “that socializing may be part of the glue that holds the [VLC] together. After all, we socialize and talk about personal matters ‘in place,’ why not ‘in space’?”. Computer-mediated instruction, the kind of instruction delivered by a VLC, is dependent upon the communication of the particip
nts. The fostering of interaction among members of a VLC is essential. In order to obtain success, the first considerations of a VLC must be its organization, intent, and structure.

Organization: Drawing the Blueprints

A number of key criteria have been identified that lend themselves to the success of a virtual learning community. First, one must determine why the VLC format is chosen over a more traditional teaching approach (Mason and Hart, undated). Is computer-mediated instruction the best way to facilitate communication, or would a regular classroom lend itself better to student interaction? A VLC may be a preferred mode of instruction for a course that encourages collaborative thinking and decision-making, rather than a course that simply requires a content expert to dispense information.

A second consideration is the location of the students expected to participate in the VLC. Do the students live within the same geographic area, making face-to-face meetings an option, or do the students encompass a great geographic area necessitating only computer-mediated interactions? When developing a VLC, one must be aware of members who may communicate exclusively through electronic means (Uber-Grosse and Leto, 1999). Further to this consideration is the issue of time zones. If synchronous discussions are to be part of the VLC format, thought must be given to the time differences between students, so scheduled events permit maximum participation (Boettcher, 1999; White, 2000).

Third, one must think about the location from which the students will be accessing the VLC and the technological competency of each student (Boettcher, 1999; McLellan, 1998 ). Some students may use their work environment, while others may access the VLC from their home. Work environments typically use Windows-based computers, and have up-to-date equipment, technical support, and high speed internet connections. Home-based users typically use Macintosh computers, less up-to-date equipment, and slower internet connections (Boettcher, 1999). A VLC may prove quite frustrating to the home user if graphics take minutes, rather than seconds, to download, or if computer failures cause synchronous activities to be missed.

Intent: Laying the Foundation

The intent of a VLC is, simply, to provide a computer-mediated forum of learning through active member involvement. Schwier (in press) states, “VLC’s utilize the idea of ‘community’ as a starting point for discussion and interaction among learners.” A VLC must “engage and involve members” (Cothrel and Williams, 1999, p.55) as this creates value and a sense of ownership, and this sense of belonging is essential to achieving a high level of student interaction. Lally and Barrett (1999) believe effective VLC’s may be best operated within the framework of cooperative learning. Furthermore, they believe VLC members must have some degree of committment to the group, and to the cooperative principles functioning therein. Thus, besides providing a learning focus, the intent of a VLC must also include ways of engaging its students.

To establish the intent, one needs to determine the target goals and the audience for which VLC is developed (Kimball, 1995; Mason and Hart, undated; White, 2000). The expectations of the course must be explicitly stated to ensure students enrolling in the VLC know what is expected of them (Mason and Hart, undated). The instructor also benefits from the provision of a clear purpose as it helps to determine the structure of the course and the resources required (White, 2000). Students enrolling in a course with the expectations stated at the start have the opportunity to decide if the course is of interest to them. If so, these students will likely become active participants of the VLC. To encourage dynamic involvement, Uber-Grosse and Leto (1999) suggest VLC curriculum developers and instructors design assignments that promote student interaction. One may conclude a VLC has met its intent when members are found to be extending their relationships beyond the online discussion space (Cothrel and Williams
1999). Members may continue their communication through the use of email, telephone conversations, or face to face meetings (if geographically possible) to interact and share knowledge.

Structure: Building the Frame

A VLC requires more than forethought and stated intent to be successful; it also needs structure. Learning communities, like terrestrial communities, call for guidelines to promote positive interactions among community members. Such guidelines may be in the form of a code of conduct explicitly stated within the intent of the VLC. The code of conduct will reflect the type of atmosphere or tone that the community wishes to create (Kimball, 1995; McLellan, 1998).

To set the proper tone of a VLC, it is advantageous to have delineated specific rules or protocol. While some rules may be explicitly stated, such as no personal attacks when giving criticism, others may be more implicit in nature, for example, treat others as you wish to be treated (Cothrel and Williams, 1999; McLellan, 1998). A VLC instructor may choose to incorporate “community building” exercises into the beginning of a course to allow students to get to know each other and learn online protocol (Winner-White and Shields, undated). Some VLC members may be new to computer-mediated interactions and require some initial latitude in their efforts to communicate with others, while other more seasoned VLC members provide modelling of proper “netiquette” (rules of etiquette utilized online).

The number of participants engaged in a VLC may determine the number of guidelines required by the community. A small group of eight to twelve people may not require a code of conduct as extensive as a community of fifty or more people. Hiltz, cited in Lally and Barrett (1999), recommends fewer than thirty members in any online community, though this number is considered too high by Lally and Barrett. A successful VLC requires enough people to sustain the communication and learning within the community without requiring a plethora of rules to monitor behavior.

Maintaining a Successful VLC

Communication among the participants is a major factor in maintaing a VLC. A community, whether online or terrestrial, cannot survive if its members do not interact with one another. Schwier (in press) suggests:

Creating a community is not simply a matter of creating rules and providing a structure. It is a means of providing a forum to support the natural development of interpersonal relationships. Such a notion is particularly important in VLC’s where the ‘idea of community is used as a rallying point for discussion and interaction among learners’.

The first source of support in the development of interpersonal realtionships is the VLC facilitator. The secondary source of support is the the VLC membership itself.

Facilitators: Home Owners

The facilitator of a VLC is the person who sets the tone, enforces the rules, and nourishes conversation ( Kimball, 1995; “Ten Tips to Building”, undated). A facilitator also acts as the host and deals with inappropriate behavior (Kimball, 1995). Just as a homeowner focuses on the needs of the family, so a facilitator focuses on the needs of the community members. This focus is achieved by getting to know the members, the skills they possess, what they need from the community, and what they have to offer through their participation (Cothrel and Williams, 1999). The means by which a facilitator performs these tasks is dependent upon the nature of the individual, but there are some key strategies that enable the facilitator to encourage successful community interactions.

Since the facilitator is usually the first person a participant meets upon joining a VLC, it is important for the facilitator to welcome each student individually and to introduce students to each other as they arrive in the “cyberclassroom”. Once everyone has been introduced, the facilitator ought to maintain a participatory role within the VLC (Guymer, 1999). The facilitator may fill such a participatory role by responding to the entire VLC membership when answering questions. Thus, rather than replying to individual student queries via personal email, the facilitator may choose to respond to the entire group. Providing feedback in this manner helps the other members of the community learn from each other; as it promotes continued interaction between the facilitator and individual students (White and Weight, 2000).

Other ways to encourage interpersonal relationships are through utilizing public and private chat rooms (Guymer, 1999), responding to student queries as they arise during the course (McLellan, 1998), and using participation incentives (Guymer, 1999). Godwin (1994) suggests that learning communities provide some type of “institutional memory” which serves as a permanent record of the events and history of the group. A VLC may wish to provide brief biographies of each student as shared backgrounds encourage closer interpersonal relationships, and knowing more about the other participants increases the likelihood of a student freely sharing information. Guymer (1999) suggests that a VLC have a place to save and post online tutorials for students who are unable to attend a virtual class. Such a site allows for a student to gather information and prepare for the next scheduled synchronous activity.

Participants: VLC Roommates

The participants of a VLC, once familiar with each other, are integral to sustaining the vibrancy of the community. Whenever engaged in a synchronous activity, members ought to signal their presence to others in the cyberclassroom to foster active participation by everyone (Lally and Barrett, 1999). If the VLC membership is kept to a small number, it is unlikely that any one person will become invisible as the others will be able to apply gentle pressure to encourage interaction by everyone. Though some participants may prefer to observe the discussion without having much personal involvement (commonly referred to as “lurking”), others may find themselves assuming such roles as content expert, mentor, or critic. Cothrel and Williams (1999) note that the willingness of VLC members to take on these roles indicates the community is something people value and wish to remain a part of. These authors have also observed that these informal roles tend to belong to the community, and not to the individuals wh
fill them. Over the course of time, the faces of the members may change, but the roles within the community will always be filled.

Evaluating a VLC

There are many variables by which the effectiveness of a virtual learning community may be established. Perhaps the most important variables are the users themselves. Since much of the success is dependent upon the development and maintenance of continued interaction among the participants, their feedback should provide the most valuable insight to the success of the community (Kollock, undated).

Evaluation: Having an Appraisal

The evaluation of a VLC may take many factors into account, but one must ask: by whose standards is the evaluation being conducted? A corporation may consider the learning community built for professional development purposes successful if all employees say they have visited it. A school or university may determine the VLC built to provide a course of instruction is successful if students were regular attenders and achieved a passing grade. Both of these standards are acceptable, depending upon the original intent of the virtual learning community.

Mason and Hart (undated) suggest a list of criteria one may employ to determine

the effectiveness of a VLC. The criteria include:

Usage rate--did people visit the VLC regularly? What was the frequency of the visitations?
Participation rate--did the VLC encourage the majority of the membership to be active participants? Was there regular attendance? Were some members more active than others?
User Feedback--what did the VLC members think of their experience?
What were the perceived merits and complaints of the VLC as a medium for learning?

These categories provide a basis for evaluation. As VLCs are utilized more extensively, the criteria for developing successful online learning environments will be more clearly delineated.


Many of the characteristics of successful VLCs presented in this paper are summarized by Jones (2000) in his study of communities of practice. Jones determined that communities are successful when: a) there is a clear identity to the community and its purpose, b) a critical mass of members exits to develop and sustain a knowledge base, c) a focus for discussion of interest to all community members is provided, d) people perceive value in the knowledge sharing and are able to apply it to their direct benefit, e) leaders encouraged knowledge sharing and are active participants, and f) community members are self-motivated. Kollock (undated) considers communities successful when they promote continuous interaction, and Schwier (in press) suggests that “the match between the purpose of the community and the importance to the learner will determine the length of its [VLC] survival and the strength of its influence.”

“Success” is as ubiquitous a term as “community.” Determining the characterisitcs of a successful learning community in a virtual atmosphere presents quite an challenge to the VLC designer and to the field of education. If VLCs become successful modes of providing education, what impact will VLCs have on the traditional education system? This author suspects there will be little impact. Granted, technology is available to an increasing number of students and the opportunities for online learning increase daily, but learning--whether it be in a traditional classroom or a virtual learning environment-- will always be successful when it facilitates and nourishes social interaction among a group of learners.

 Topic 28 of 52 [vc]: incentives for vc members
 Response 4 of 9: Conf admin  (cfadm) * Wed, Mar  2, 2005 (14:29) * 41 lines 
from a feature:

Of all the odd and idiosyncratic groups that built the Net -- the hackers, academics, Defense Department strategists, scientists and engineers -- one of the most compelling and poignant was a cluster of community idealists, digital pioneers who founded early virtual communities like The WELL.

The virtual community is the long-sought but almost-never-found New Jerusalem that's touched the hearts and minds of some of the nicest, most ethical people who've ever gone online. Freenet, mailing lists, MUD's, Usenets and IRC's and IM and (even P2P) systems have mushroomed over the years, but the Virtual Community was supposed to be a different kind of space, a way to use the Network to connect people, to help them know and sustain one another in previously inconceivable ways.

Although almost everyone who has spent much time online has occasionally experienced this sense of community, it's generally proven impossible to maintain in an ongoing or large-scale way, for either individuals or sites. An ideal sought in part by 60s refugees trying to keep their societal dreams alive was done in by the Internet's unexpected success, by the changing economics of cyberspace and by vocal bands of articulate and aggressive adolescents.

One of the articulate prophets for that new kind of place was Howard Rheingold, a WELL mainstay and author of The Virtual Community, the book that laid out the yearning for a humanistic virtual community, rather than one purely technological or informational. The WELL, more than any other virtual space, has evoked the possibilities of a wired community whose loyal citizens meet, argue with, support and befriend one another in their work lives, their personal struggles, even in their deaths. From the first -- perhaps by dint of the particular geographic, political and cultural cast of the people who launched and inhabited it -- the WELL was unique. It still is. Despite the stunning growth of the Net and the Web, there has never been an online place like it. Increasingly, it seems there never may be.

More recent virtual communities are much more "virtual" than "community." Clusters of people collect around networks devoted to certain issues: workplace, sex, gaming, gender, finances, health, parenting. But most are transitional. The seminal idea of the WELL -- using the new network to connect personally with other humans -- feels outdated today, almost naive. Apart from sites like Senior Net, or certain mailing lists and messaging sites devoted to shared problems like cancer, the modern virtual community trades in information at the expense of intimacy. Even the most sophisticated Weblogs exist to trade ideas and commentary; participants may know next to nothing about the people behind the posts.

The idea of community itself is often mythologized, especially in America, where Disneyfied representations of an old-time Main Street have become a standard almost no one achieves in the real world. To suggest the Net has eroded community is foolish: ancient ideas of community have been eroding for generations, thanks to such innovations as the phone, TV, autos and interstate highways. The Net is just another evolution of that pattern, and it's not surprising that the virtual community has been mythologized as well.

Creating online communities is brutal work, requiring a particular kind of energy and commitment. In "Cyberville, Clicks, Culture, and the Creation of an Online Town," published by Warner Books, New York City's ECHO founder Stacy Horn writes about her response to the suggestion that she ought to start some online communities in Boston, LA or New Orleans: "I put the idea aside...I'd have to find people locally to host, build, relationships with local organizations and businesses -- it's an incredibly delicate and gut-wrenching process -- I simply couldn't go through it again and again unless some big huge company paid me a lot of money to oversee the local people they would also pay a lot of money to do the actual work of building a local virtual community from within a physical one."

If everyone online were like Horn or were Rheingoldian -- smart, warm, ethical, community-minded -- then the Net might actually have become the connective environment that Rheingold and others articulated so powerfully. But most people are not, of course. Flamers and corporations and lawyers have thundered online, along with e-traders, role-players, spammers, governments -- everyone! -- with a long list of other agendas, from improved market share to con games.

As Rheingold, one of the founders of Wired Magazine's late Web site Hotwired, points out, it was briefly different, at least in some places. In the intro to Virtual Community, first published in l993 and revised and reissued this year by MIT Press, Rheingold describes how ever since the summer of l985 he has plugged his PC into his phone and logged onto the WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) to carry on public conversations and exchange e-mail.

It was, initally, a revelation. "...Finding the WELL was like discovering a cozy little world that had been flourishing without me, hidden within the walls of my house; an entire cast of characters welcomed me to the troupe with great merriment as soon as I found the secret door. Like others who fell into the WELL, I soon discovered that I was audience, performer and scriptwriter, along with my companions, in an ongoing improvisation."

There is something touching about those words, the sense that Rheingold is describing something already from another age, something of enormous promise but, still, a dream unfulfilled. All over the network, individual grassroot community systems have been overshadowed, marginalized, or driven out of existence by the very technology they helped to grow.

Why? In new reflections added to his book, Rheingold notes the enormous damage done by hostile participants of virtual communities who seek attention through aggression and who take up an enormous, disproportionate amount of time and energy online, even when they comprise a distinct minority. In fact, this pattern has probably destroyed more virtual communities than any other single factor.

Internet researcher Elizabeth Reid of Australia, in an essay reprinted in Communities in Cyberspace (edited by Mark Smith and Peter Kollock), describes how some early BBS's -- she cites "CommuniTree" -- were intended to be free, open forums for intellectual and spiritual discussions. This community, she writes in a selection called "Hierarchy and Power," collapsed under an onslaught of messages, often obscene and hostile, posted by the first generation of adolescents with personal computers and modems. (Understandably, there is something about adolescence that doesn't care for free, intellectual and spiritual discussions.)

In Cybersociety 2.0, a collection of essays about digital communication and community (edited by Steven G. Jones), Reid and co-researcher Beth Kolko write in "Dissolution and Fragmentation: Problems in On-Line Communities" that it's the ease of individual expression -- the "singularity of on-line personae," that can be the greatest threat to online communities. "It has been all too easy for virtual communities to encourage multiplicity but not coherence," write Reid and Kolko, "with each individual persona having a limited, undiversified social range. This cultural schizophrenia makes the virtual community brittle and ill equipped to evolve with the demands of circumstance."

Other Net students and scholars have also found what many members of virtual communities know: efforts to control discussion, mediate disputes, or reach broad consensus often fail, breeding alienation, paranoia, anger and more controversy as online personae and positions harden in the abscence of moderating social forces like face-to-face, or even voice-to-voice contact.

So this more or less remained the plight of the virtual community as one after another struggles to maintain order against a culture that still, mysteriously, engenders endemic alienation, hostility and narcissism, even among intelligent and articulate people.

Besides, the world shifted into Net overdrive after the publication of The Virtual Community, the author notes ruefully in the new edition. In the 1980s, when he and a handful of journalists began writing about online society and culture, only a few technophiles, scholars and researchers grasped the point-to-point, many-to-many-possibilities of digital architecture.

At the time, the total online population numbered in the tens of thousands. Less than a decade later, "the Internet has made it possible for hundreds of millions of people to transform civilization's most powerful institutions -- commerce, politics, science, scholarship, entertainment, education, health care," Rheingold writes. "Our world has changed profoundly and swiftly, in large part because of the phenomenon this book described -- the sudden emergence of the Internet as a new communication medium."

Yet the change, he candidly acknowledges, was not the stirring revolution and reinvention of community he hoped for and expected.

 Topic 28 of 52 [vc]: incentives for vc members
 Response 5 of 9: managing virtual communities  (cfadm) * Sat, Mar  5, 2005 (13:08) * 1 lines 

 Topic 28 of 52 [vc]: incentives for vc members
 Response 6 of 9: community networking  (cfadm) * Sat, Mar  5, 2005 (13:12) * 23 lines 
The Association For Community Networking
AFCN is a membership organisation for those who pioneered community networks in the 1980s and 1990s, and who are championing the benefits the Internet

University of Michigan
The School of Information Community Networking Initiative has a site rich in content and contacts

NCexChange NETworker Project
The NCExchange project has documented hard-won lessons Learned from a two-year demonstration project that promoted community-wide networking strategies for four communities in North Carolina. It describes the challenges of an emerging new profession which requires a unique combination of technology and people skills. It shares what worked best (networking the NETworkers, for example) and doesn't hesitate to describe the difficulties (such as "it's hard to serve two masters") as well.

Blacksburg Electronic Village
Blacksburg is one of the oldest Internet-based community networks in the US and has over 60% of citizens online. Their site offers a wealth of 'how to' material and a second edition of their excellent book is now avilable as a free download from the publisher

NCexChange NETworker Project: Guiding Principles
For those communities who want to take the next step beyond the strategy of "technology-driven" infrastructure and funding disconnected silos,these guiding principles may be good starting point. Customize for your needs.

Building blocks
Terry Grunwald has assembled this long list of 'building blocks' that might make up a community networking project.

 Topic 28 of 52 [vc]: incentives for vc members
 Response 7 of 9: virtual community motivation  (cfadm) * Sun, Mar  6, 2005 (09:55) * 39 lines 
Motivations to Join a Group

Research in social psychology has revealed different motivations for individuals to join regular, non-CMC groups. Humans have a need to belong and be affiliated with others (Watson & Johnson, 1972), because groups provide individuals with a source of information and help in achieving goals (Watson & Johnson, 1972), give rewards (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959; Watson & Johnson, 1972), and, according to social identity theory (Hogg, 1996; Tajfel, 1978; Turner, 1978, 1985), people form a social identity of values, attitudes and behavioral intentions from the perceived membership in distinct self-inclusive real or imagined social groups. An individual’s self identity typically results from the membership in a preexisting self-inclusive social group, including vocation (Hogg & Terry, 2000) and avocation (Underwood, Bond, & Baer, 2001). These motivations for joining traditional, face-to-face groups can be extended to examine membership in virtual communities.

Information Exchange Aspect of Virtual Communities

Why do people choose to join a virtual community? The most frequently cited reason in the literature is to access information (Furlong, 1989; S. G. Jones, 1995; Wellman et al., 1996), which is also a reason for group membership cited often by social psychologists (Watson & Johnson, 1972). Indeed, there are some reports of CMC site providers who have been directed to use content to attract members by creating virtual communities where patrons can search for product and service information (Hagel & Armstrong, 1997). Virtual communities, providing a subset of the information available on the Internet, are unique in that most of their content is member-generated, as opposed to other Internet information which is typically provided by the site provider. This makes the quality of CMC content an important factor in virtual community success (Filipczak, 1998). It has even been suggested that virtual communities must have compelling content, and that they might fail if they do not having good standards for this cont
nt (Sreenivasan, 1997). One way of achieving such compelling context is through member-generated content, and the self-sustaining process it creates: as more members generate more content, the increased content draws more members (Hagel & Armstrong, 1997).

Knowledge and information are, in general, a valuable currency or social resource in virtual communities (Binik, Cantor, Ochs, & Meana, 1997; Hiltz & Wellman, 1997; Rheingold, 1993a; Sproull & Faraj, 1997). What makes virtual communities special in this regard – as compared, for example, with traditional social groups – is the magnitude and impact of "weak ties," i.e., relationships with acquaintances or strangers to obtain useful information through online networks (Constant, Sproull, & Kiesler, 1996). A virtual community can be an ideal place to ask relative strangers about information. Virtual communities tend to focus on very specific topics with relationships among members being mostly intended for information exchange about specific topics (Baym, 2000; Wellman & Gulia, 1999a). Indeed, virtual community messages tend to express views, provide and request information, express feelings, and suggest solutions (Herring, 1996). Likewise, a Pew Internet and The American Life Project survey studying 1,426 vir
ual community members found that those involved with entertainment, professional and sports groups focus their activities on obtaining information (Horrigan et al., 2001).

Social Support Exchange

Another reason why people join a virtual community is the social support that the community can provide. Social support is "the degree to which a person’s basic social needs are gratified through interaction with others” (Thoits, 1982, p. 147). Social support may also be linked with individual motivation to join groups because of the sense of belonging and affiliation it entails (Watson & Johnson, 1972) and the way it addresses the need for self-identity (Hogg, 1996). House (1981) offers a more specific definition of social support: “a flow of emotional concern, instrumental aid, information, and/or appraisal (information relevant to self-evaluation) between people” (p. 26). Consistent with this definition, many studies suggest that virtual communities are places where people go to find emotional support, sense of belonging, and encouragement, in addition to instrumental aid (Furlong, 1989; Hiltz, 1984; Hiltz & Wellman, 1997; Korenman & Wyatt, 1996; M. A. Smith, 1999; Sproull & Faraj, 1997; Wellman, 1996; W
llman et al., 1996). Indeed, the structure of the Internet, with its searching capabilities and various virtual community forums, makes it easier to find others in similar situations and get emotional support, social support, a sense of belonging and companionship (Wellman & Gulia, 1999a).

In perhaps one of the earliest and most comprehensive studies of virtual communities, Hiltz (1984) presents, in her book Online Communities, a detailed account of her 2-year study of seven virtual communities with a total of 213 individuals. These communities of scientific researchers used a CMC system to enhance communication and productivity. Hiltz came to the conclusion that system use was determined by participant motivation and by the social context, rather than by system characteristics. This conclusion was later echoed by Herring's (1996) empirical investigation of gender, ethics, and etiquette in computer-mediated discussions. Herring found that the freedom to express views and to receive social support were the main reasons individuals joined and used virtual communities. Her study of two email distribution lists found that people participated to exchange opinions, beliefs, understandings, and judgments though a social interaction with others, but where the pure exchange of information took on a se
ondary role. The social support aspects of virtual communities have come up in many other studies. Hiltz and Wellman (1997) suggested that online communities provide emotional support and sociability as well as information and instrumental aid related to shared tasks. Indeed, there is empirical evidence that the Internet is a social setting in which people can exchange useful social support (Mickelson, 1997). Support for this conclusion can also be found in the wealth of websites that specialize in social support. These include virtual communities for recovering alcohol and drug addicts, people suffering from diseases, and those coping with stress from major life changes such as job loss, death of loved ones, or divorce.


The research reviewed above shows that information exchange and social support are among the central reasons why people join and then choose to remain in a virtual community. But are these the only reasons? Some research on virtual communities and research dealing with why people use the Internet, in general, suggest that there are possibly other reasons.

Much as people have been found to join face-to-face groups to belong and be with others (Watson & Johnson, 1972), another possible reason why people join virtual communities is to seek friendship. The interactivity achieved with chat rooms, instant messaging, and bulletin boards, and the various search facilities available on the Internet provide a way for individuals to search for and to communicate with others for the purpose of establishing and continuing friendships. The structure of the Internet makes it easier to find others in similar situations and meet with them than it is in real life (Igbaria, 1999; Wellman & Gulia, 1999a), especially when the interest may be highly unusual or unique. It has been suggested that some people whose jobs are lonely and isolated seek others in virtual communities not only to exchange opinions and request advice about problems, but also just generally to engage in small-talk with people around the world (Filipczak, 1998; Lowes, 1997; Wellman, 1997). In Baym’s (2000) et
nographic study of a Usenet newsgroup discussing soap operas, she found that people were initially drawn to the wealth of information on the topic, but friendliness also emerged strongly in the community.

Friendships in virtual communities can provide additional benefits beyond that of information exchange and social support. The feeling of being together and being a member of a group of friends comes with the notions of being part of a group, spending time together, companionship, socializing, and networking. Friendship in this context is about the value of being together, unlike social support that deals with seeking emotional help or helping others. While friendships may also provide information and social support, seeking these exchanges does not necessarily indicate the desire for friendship. For example, a lawyer could be a member of a virtual community solely for information exchange regarding her profession, and she could have no interest in cultivating friendships in the virtual community. Likewise, a recently widowed husband could look to a virtual community for social support in dealing with the loss of his wife, but, again, without the intention of forming friendships.

Research shows that people use the Internet to contact others with similar interests simply for the purpose of making friends and “hanging out” together (Parks & Floyd, 1995; Rosson, 1999). Indeed, Rheingold (1993a) suggests that this may apply to virtual communities too. An empirical study by Wasko and Faraj (2000) found that the community interest was the primary motivating factor for participation in three technically oriented newsgroups. Although their study focused narrowly on knowledge exchange in virtual communities among practitioners, they did find that participation is due also to pro-social behaviors. Another empirical study by Utz (2000) in a specific type of virtual community called a Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) examined why individuals play and develop friendships in MUDs. Utz (2000) found that people form friendships in MUDs and that, interestingly, those who did not have friendships spent less time in the virtual community. Friendship development in MUDs seems to be a secondary motivation for j
ining, although it is unclear if this is true in other types of virtual communities. Establishing friendships and personal relationships through a virtual community is a major reason people join online groups (Horrigan et al., 2001) , as noted also by the popular press (Saranow & Hayward, 2003).


Another reason people participate in virtual communities is the recreation they provide. The use of the Internet in general has been touted in both the popular press and scholarly research as a relatively new form of recreation similar to that of watching TV (Jackson, 1999). Arguably, the entertainment value of the Internet applies to virtual communities as well. A good example of this are adventure MUDs, a type of virtual community in which users play games with other community members (Reid, 1999; Utz, 2000). Virtual community participants have been found to believe that the communities are fun and enjoyable (Wasko & Faraj, 2000), and Utz (2000) proposes that the primary motivation for individuals in MUDs is an interest in recreational role-playing and game playing.

more at

 Topic 28 of 52 [vc]: incentives for vc members
 Response 8 of 9: virtualman (cfadm) * Mon, Jul 21, 2008 (20:13) * 1 lines 
We need to overhaul our own vc. I'm thinking of rolling out a Drupal site with it's own native bbs. Exporting 8 years of comments is the issue.

 Topic 28 of 52 [vc]: incentives for vc members
 Response 9 of 9: Paul Terry Walhus  (paul) * Sat, Sep 20, 2008 (08:15) * 1 lines 
I have the drupal site up and running

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