Wellman, Barry, and Gulia, Milena. (1999) Virtual communities as communities: Net surfers don't ride alone. Communities in Cyberspace. Smith and Kollock, Eds. Routledge, 167-194.
This piece poses seven research questions and conclusions:
1. Are online relationships narrowly specialized or broadly supportive? Communities are often based on narrow, info-specific subjects. However, participants very often reach out to others who are experiencing similar social issues, feelings, or physical symptoms. “Even when online groups are not designed to be supportive, they tend to be” (173).
2. In what ways are the many weak ties on the Net useful? Weak ties are more likely to link people with different social characteristics. Heterogeneous groups have a greater base of problem-solving skills (176).
3. Is there reciprocity online and attachment to virtual communities? There is a striking amount of reciprocity, which may be driven by simple kindness, desire to gain/maintain social capital, or community norms of reciprocity and/or citizenship. (177). Group attachment is tied to mutual aid.
4. Are strong, intimate ties possible online? Virtual relationships share same of the same criteria as strong, intimate f2f relationships, but cannot exactly meet all the criteria due to contraints of the medium. This question remains somewhat unresolved, and the authors also question research regarding duration of f2f relationships.
5. How does virtual community affect ‘real-life’ community? The authors list a number of reasons this dichotomy is false (see 181-182). Essentially, we must not assume that participation in a virtual community is deterimental to real-life communities -- community is not a zero-sum game. Both communities blend in the participant’s life, and need not be mutually exclusive.
6. Does the Net increase community diversity? Yes, because class/gender/race don’t matter. The authors fail to address the fact that class/gender/race/beauty do influence access, and thus who has the opportunity to get online in the first place.
7. Are virtual communities real communities? They are different but real. “They are not just pale imitations of ‘real life.’ The Net is the Net” (186). Relationships develop, support is given. The architecture necessarily shapes interactions. And then there’s the inevitable use of the word glocalization.