Here’s my longer reply to Silvana’s thoughtful comments.
I think that online communities can and, as Silvana points out, do exist in practice. I agree that the examples Silvana cites are, indeed, virtual communities.
However, I also think the term is overused. Even Michael Wesch – gulp, I’m taking on a big name virtual ethnographer here – is guilty of this when he describes those uploading and posting to YouTube as a “community”. Worse, he claims that “what you’ll see on YouTube is [sic] incredibly deep communities” (2009).
I don’t think they are; I think YouTube is an interesting example of distributed user participation in an ‘affinity space’ that displays new cultural practices and new forms of online sociability but I feel it lacks the “social density” that defines a community proper.
Mário Guimarães (2005) has an interesting chapter on defining online communities. Interestingly, he both cites and dismisses Hamman’s definition of community used in Clari’s paper. According to Guimarães:
‘community’ is predominantly a matter of boundary construction through identity and shared systems of meaning. (2005: 146)
I feel that Marko and his fellow bloggers do constitute a community. Here’s why:
- shared political stance (”Eustonite” Left, pro-military intervention);
- common perception of being in opposition to another community (”traditional” Left, generally anti-war and anti-American);
- varied and regular activities – newspaper and magazine articles, letters to editors, reading and writing blog posts, academic publications, conference papers, private emails and Facebook exchanges etc.;
- clear understanding of purpose of those activities – i.e. promote their vision of “progressive Left politics”, challenge and critique opposing perspectives etc.
Guimarães, M. (2005). Doing Anthropology in Cyberspace: Fieldwork Boundaries and Social Environments. In C. Hine, C. (ed.) Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Reseach on the Internet (141-156). Oxford: Berg.
Wesch, M. (2009). The Machine is (Changing) Us: YouTube and the Politics of Authenticity. Accessed 9 November 2009, from