Academic journal article Journal of Management Information and Decision Sciences

Constructing Virtual Communities on Internet: A Research Map through Different Organizational Levels

Academic journal article Journal of Management Information and Decision Sciences

Constructing Virtual Communities on Internet: A Research Map through Different Organizational Levels

Article excerpt


Since information technology has made huge progress in recent years, one of the most impressive changes is the transformation of interpersonal communication. Previous studies mention that information technology has generated a new communication style--computer- mediated communications (CMC, hereafter)--to impact interpersonal communications (Rice 1980). CMC refers to a group of people who communicate each others by computer media, like email or internet. Against CMC, the face-to-face communication (F2F, hereafter) is a more traditional communication style. Though F2F has some characteristics better than CMC, Etzioni & Etzioni (1999) consider that CMC has superior broadcasting ability than F2F does. CMC could enable every member in a group to communicate with each other simultaneously. Except broadcasting ability, memory is also one of the significant merits of CMC as opposed to F2F. The former could maintain a more effective memory than the latter (Etzioni & Etzioni 1999).

Because of fast development in communication technology, computer media become a popular communication tool. This phenomenon generates several new terminologies of which one is called virtual community meaning the interpersonal relationship in a group virtualized through using computer media. In fact, the concept of community originates from sociology that refers to a social group linked by tight knit or an aggregate of people who know each other well (Etzioni & Etzioni 1999). The original definition of community is useful for us to define a virtual community and would be discussed in the next section.

That people who communicate with each others and maintain their relationship by CMC is a popular alternative to others, for example, mail or F2F. Today, we can see more and more virtual communities so innovative and powerful for the whole society. Because of its huge influence for the individual and society, researchers from many fields have paid far more attention to address this issue by studying communication, e-commerce and consumer behavior. However, according to Li (2004), the research about virtual community so far is too divergent. A clear research map of virtual community is needed to guide future research, and this is what we want to address in this article. In doing so, both scholars and practitioners are able to communicate well under the jargon of virtual community, and we will find more effective ways to develop and sustain it.

We divide this paper into six sections. The first is introduction which presents the importance of the literature integration. Second, we accommodate the concept of community from sociology and move on to address virtual communities. Third, three analytic levels are categorized and presented. In the forth section, related articles are reviewed and discussed. In the fifth and final section, we draw the research map, classify issues for each analytic level, and point out further research direction for virtual communities.


Original concept of communities: sociology perspective

The concept of communities could be traced back to Tonnies' (1967) concept for community (Gemeinschaft). While both community and society refer to an aggregation of people, Tonnies argues that community is different from society (Gesellschaft) in terms of its intimate, private, and exclusive living together. Their difference is public or not. In other words, the community is not as public as society. By Tonnies' definition, community could be divided into three categories. The first is community by kinship where people are linked by kinship as a community. The second is community of locality, and the third is community of mind.

The other classification of communities against Tonnies' (1967) was proposed by Gusfield (1975). Gusfield (1975) divides the communities into geographic communities and relational communities. …

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