Building Virtual Communities: Learning and Change in Cyberspace

By K. Ann Renninger; Wesley Shumar | Go to book overview

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The Mystery of the Death of MediaMOO
Seven Years of Evolution of an Online Community
Amy Bruckman and Carlos Jensen

What Happened to MediaMOO?

A typical Tuesday evening, 1993–1996: In the online cafe, writing teachers begin to arrive. Twenty-five teachers will spend an hour discussing how to handle inappropriate student behavior in electronic environments. Afterwards, a few will stay for a game of ScrabbleT and good conversation. Some will also attend the poetry reading on Wednesday. In a virtual hallway, an anthropologist stops to chat with a computer programmer about some recently released software. A communications professor in Seattle, Washington, meets with a graduate student in Queensland, Australia, to discuss a survey of online behavior they are developing together. More than one thousand people from thirty-four countries are active members.

A typical Tuesday evening, 1999: The space is empty. The writing teachers found another place to meet years ago. The communications professor drops by, finds no one else connected, and immediately leaves.

The “place” is MediaMOO, a text-based virtual reality environment (multiuser domain or MUD) designed to be a professional community for media researchers (Bruckman & Resnick, 1995). MediaMOO was founded in 1992 by Amy Bruckman as a place where people doing research on new media could share ideas, collaborate, and network. MediaMOO's environment was designed to recreate the informal atmosphere and social interaction of a conference reception. Members came from a wide variety of disciplines, creating a diverse environment that fostered interdisciplinary research and learning.

MediaMOO reached its peak of activity in the mid-1990s but had fallen into disuse by 1998. What caused MediaMOO's decline? Could it have been avoided? Is this a story of failure, or is change inevitable and

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