Rather than creating communities, however, were are merely developing categorical identities or imagined communities, that are nothing more than the feeling of belonging to some group.
He argues that a true community requires direct relationships among its members: I want to argue. there is a great deal of difference between social groups formed out of direct relationships among their members, although often sharing an imaginatively constructed cultural identity, and social categories defined by common cultural or other external attributes of their members and not necessarily linked by any dense, multiplex, or systematic web of interpersonal relationships. 107) In contrast, Oldenburg (1989) argues that online communities may fill a need that has been all but abandoned in modern societies, where the closeness and social bonding of the gemeinschaft has been replaced by the emotional disconnect of the gesellschaft.
Such designations reify the notion that interactions void of the face-to-face connection are somehow less than the real thing (p. Purcell (1997) also notes that the type and extent of social contact determines the richness of an exchange and that intimate, face-to-face exchanges have been viewed as the most substantive, and legitimate, bonding forms of interaction. Even though they are joking, and she has a good sense of humor about it, comments like that still hurt. She is coming early mainly so that out daughter gets used to having her around before mom and dad take a week to go through the surgery and recovery.
That view, Purcell suggests, is not accurate in all settings: Co-presence does not insure intimate interaction among all group members. With mom in the hospital and dad driving back and forth, we figure it will be hard on her for while.
According to Oldenburg, an individual moves about through three basic environments: where he works, where he lives, and the place where he joins with others for conviviality.
The latter environment, the place of idle talk and banter with acquaintances and friends, is often where the sense of membership in a community is achieved and experienced.
Downing (1989) explored the impact of Peace Net on what he described as grassroots teledemocracy. Nelson (1994, 1995) studied the virtual communities created by disabled Internet users, Murray (1996) described the way in which nurses shared information and exchanged ideas on a specialized newsgroup, and Thomsen (1996) examined the uses and gratifications associated with participation in a newsgroup for public relations practitioners.
The often highly specialized nature of these online communities, and the fact that they transcend geography and the need for physical presence, pose a challenge for sociologists and communication researchers, however, because they do not possess all the traditional dimensions of real communities that have often been the focus of ethnographic and social research. When the researcher selects an online community as the focus of his study, however, where does he actually go and what is he really observing?
Finally this paper discusses the epistemological and methodological implications of studying cyber communities.
We will discuss how computer-mediated interaction, or telelogic communication, as it has been characterized by a number of theorists (Ogan, 1993; Ball-Rokeach & Reardon, 1988), can be analyzed to contribute to phenomenological or ethnographic understandings of what it means to be a member of a cyber-community.