As the Internet has developed, and as our knowledge of how people relate to the Internet and use its facilities has grown, so we begin to see the effect of the Internet on the user as something potentially greater than a passive means of quickly and cheaply transmitting information between points. Communication on the Internet can go beyond the simple passivity that receipt of information implies to embrace emotional and social factors more usually associated with real-life communication. Even though for the moment person-to-person communication on the Internet is largely text-based, and therefore apparently limited in comparison with more usual face-to-face communication, there is a sense in which the process of passage of that information can generate a sense of group membership, the development of social networks, and the generation of a sense of community. Thus communication using Internet structures can go beyond the instrumentality implied by information exchange. The creation of social space, groups and communities are terms we use to refer to the consequences of going beyond information exchange to embrace social and emotional factors.
The term 'virtual' is used to refer to network-based communication, and related consequent communities. Rheingold's (1993) definition of a virtual community was that' Virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on public discourses long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace' (5). The term 'virtual' is sometimes contrasted with actual, as if a virtual entity were not a real entity. Watson (1998) argued that the distinction between virtual community and real community is unwarranted. The entailment of calling online communities 'virtual' includes spreading and reinforcing a belief that what happens online is like a community, but isn't really a community. This can be a misleading comparison, however, for in the sense used in respect of networked communication, virtual has a rather different meaning (Levy 1998). To illustrate this, Levy used the example of the virtualisation of a company. He noted that a conventional organisation brings its employees together into a location, a building or buildings of some form. An employee has a location in that space (an office, a workbench, etc.), and generally a schedule indicates the hours he or she will work. Such a schedule is necessary if the various individuals who need to work together have to be organised to appear