Virtual communities and its association is the basis to understand the functions that resemble real-life “relationships” between bloggers. Considering the issue of friendship, through blogging, in the virtual community to be valued the same and have similar patterns as any form of real-life relationship.
Since the advent of the internet, the virtual community has developed to be a more complex and sophisticated mechanism that allows long distance communication; as well as to alleviate the communication barrier between people.
Wellman and Gulia (1999) conducted a research about the similarities between virtual and real life (physical) community. The authors stressed a particular stereotype that people assumed about the virtual community; as increasing use of the internet rises, the world fears that interpersonal communication (face-to-face communication) will fade. The authors relate online communities like a village, where people help each other apart from different problems, professions, hobbies or interests they have.
“More recently, sociologists have discovered that such neighbourhood and kinship ties are only a portion of people’s overall community networks because cars, planes and phones can maintain relationships over long distances (Wellman 1988a, 1993). They realized that communities do not have to be solidarity groups of densely-knit neighbours but could also exist as social networks of kin, friends, and workmates who do not necessarily live in the same neighbourhoods.” (Wellman and Gulia, 1999:2)
Another assumption pointed out is that the internet is always seen as a separate entity. The authors ask to remember few years ago when telephone, fax and other communication devices were invented, there were worries that people will forget the daily face-to-face interaction.
“People in virtual communities do just about everything people do in real life, but we leave our bodies behind.” (Trend 2001:274)
Online relationships are also more supportive in nature. People tend to sympathize and give encouraging comments. Some share mutual interests and that brings the relationship closer. It is possible that people trust their online friends more than their real life friends due to several reasons. Because relationship is voluntary, the internet provides a channel where people voluntarily find someone of the same interest, same opinion and personally appealing; this much more than real life situations. The example given by the authors is in office situation; people are not generally intimate with their workmates.
After all the findings on the positive effects of virtual communities, the authors concluded that, “online relationships are based more on shared interests and less on social characteristics.” (Wellman and Gulia 1999:16)
In sociology, there are two philosophical views that are usually taken as a foundation of the research. The first is the scope and nature (theory) of knowledge, better known as epistemology, there are two elements that make up the philosophical view, which are essentialism and nominalism Secondly, for every research, there is the ontological perspective, which is the nature of being, or something that exist in general. Just like epistemology, ontology has two elements that help in understanding it, which are idealism and materialism.
When the study of virtual communities became a topic of interest, it became difficult to find the epistemological and ontological approach for it. As we know, virtual communities are difficult to define, and a broad topic in general. Defining the cyberspace is a challenge in itself. The most common term now used is virtual community; however the groups that exist on the internet do not have any similarities to the real meaning of the word “community”. Community, as we know, is a group of people who live in the same geographical region, specifically a village or housing compound. However, in the cyber world, these groups composed of globally dispersed individuals.
The term “virtual community” is adapted to the nature of the internet as the global region and websites as the habitat. Therefore individuals’ belonging to one website group belongs to that community.
Trend, D. (2001) Reading Digital Culture. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Wellman, B & Gulia, M (1997) Net Surfers Don’t Ride Alone: Virtual Communities as Communities. Retrieved March 7th 2009 from http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wellman/publications/netsurfers/netsurfers.pdf