I think that there is a problem related to the way in which we negotiate ‘the’ difference between virtual communities and communities that come from the real world. Hmm. Well there is a problem in my mind.
Virtual communities seem to have more relevance in an academic field or any field that depends on somewhat ‘abstract’ terms. That is, communities seem to function better if their elements originate in the cyberspace and are non physical to begin with (for ex. a community about language, among university lectures or a community about video games for online gamers) and they don’t seem to function all that well if one attempts to translate objects (communities) form ‘the real world’ into the cyberspace.
I mean virtual communities do have their value as a mean of communication, however there is a number of properties about ‘the real world’ communities that cannot be represented/expressed when they go online. I guess the problem arises from the fact that physical objects are surrounded by other physical objects (buildings, streets, traffic, location) thus adding to the their role, their purpose and their meaning. And when objects, institutions, buildings, social protocols, events that occur within such physical constructs are translated into the cyberspace some of their values and meanings (signifier and signified, semantics I guess) are changed and they seem irrelevant or less effective when communicating a particular idea. Especially when attempting to construct a particular role for that online community to play in the cyberspace and in the real world.
I guess the problem is how to define the difference (differences) between an online community and a community from the real world. What are the elements of that ‘difference’?
Of course, virtual communities are not meant to be ‘real’ and vice versa. Indeed, some people create virtual communities in order to escape the real world communities. BUT THAT IS THE POINT. We, the users of online communities, must be able to determine the difference, we have to be aware of how certain communities, message boards, networks, etc., represent the real world, thus we must able to try to guess where they could be departing from reality and we must not believe everything they say. That is, we have to know that their views could be skewed and that we are not getting the real picture. This especially important if consider the nature of the internet. It’s global. And it’s very easy for citizens of one country to get the wrong picture about how things are done in another country. In fact, it would be very easy to develop false networks and communities in order to garner support and create chaos.