Mythologising the Online Community

An interesting post from Dr Mark William Johnson on the myth of the online community. I wasn’t able to comment directly, so I’ve presented a few thoughts here:

From what I understand, the notion of online or ‘virtual communities’ (Rheingold etc.) partly emerged from the activities of early adopters who were both collocated and geographically dispersed, but importantly, were relatively few in number. As such, they engaged in the type of shared interests and enterprises that might be genuinely considered analogous with the development and maturation of physical communities. Subsequent online platforms like Ning-type sites continue to exploit the community metaphor, albeit superficially.

In response to the exponential rise in the number of web users, Castells, Bauman, Wellman etc. offered up varying interpretations of ‘networked individualism’ as an alternative metaphor of web sociability. This would seem to be a more appropriate reading of how many of us use the web today, particularly in the strategic, self-invested behaviours Mark refers to. Yet even in this type of online landscape, whilst individual motives may vary, aspects of empathy, altruism and reciprocity – that we might associate with the values and social cohesion of the physical community – are evident in some of the (sometimes transient) social aggregations that can emerge (such as those around some dedicated Twiitter hashtags).


2 Responses to “Mythologising the Online Community”

  1. Mark Johnson Says:

    Hi Andy,

    thanks for this (sorry you weren’t able to comment on blogger – a few people have had problems, and I need to look into it… )

    I’m thinking my way through this, but I think we need to re-examine our distinctions. Conflation of terms like ‘community’ leads to bad theory… which I see as the real problem in education.

    Personally, I think ‘meaning’ is more useful to think about rather than ‘community’. I’m not saying that online communications are not meaningful, (obviously they are) I’m arguing that it’s misleading to use the term ‘community’ just because something appears meaningful. I’ll look into the Baumann reference.. didn’t know it…



  2. virginia Yonkers Says:

    I like Henri’s categories for communities. She distinguishes the purposes for an online group that then develops into a “community”. I do think there is a distinction between “community” and “network” that can be made on a psychological level. The level of belonging makes that distinction.

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