Virtual Community Literature Review

by Moya K. Mason

Introduction

The rise of virtual communities, whereby people around the world can communicate in a "many-to-many" fashion, has blurred the role of place, and our vision of what community is in an historical sense. Virtual communities may even offer possibilities for electronic democracy, reminiscent of the days of the Greek agora when more than a handful of people had a say in the way the state was run. The days of Periclean Democracy were in some ways, a golden time for individuality, with their emphasis on expression of ideals and the expectation that all citizens would participate in debating the affairs of the state. The perpetuation of their liberty and heritage were communal properties in fifth century B.C. Athens. Those were the days of Socrates' conversations in the agora and philosophers teaching in outdoor pavilions: individual input was expected and personal contact between people was a requirement. The activity which Ancient Romans looked forward to each day was the trip to the baths, for conservation and company. This is where the affairs of government and business were discussed. People came together for the exchange of ideas and the knowledge that decisions could be made and carried out. The rise of virtual communities may cause a revival of some of the important contributions that can be made by an individual.

Just as Marx stood in the forefront of sociological thought and influenced all those who came after him, so too, Howard Rheingold stands at the forefront of the field of study into virtual communities since his very successful book, The Virtual Community was published in 1993. The book and Mr. Rheingold's subsequent writings on the phenomena of community within a technological realm has spurned a substantial amount of research and commentary in the field, raising questions such as what does community really mean and what are its basic underlying tenants? Is it possible for true social relationships to be forged by people who meet on the Internet? And can we call an electronic coming together a community in a sociological sense?

Ferdinand Tönnies, a nineteenth century German sociologist, was one of the first to write about the concept of community and its particular characteristics. He used the term Gemeinschaft for community: a representation for an ideal social collectiveness that governs society, one in which a foundation is formed on sentimentality, familiarity, and emotional ties. Forming an opposition is Gesellschaft, or a community based upon calculated rationality, personal interest, and indifference to traditions. With the rise of industrialization, Tönnies saw a shift from Gemeinschaft to one based on Gesellschaft. His work has led many to study what community is and the factors needed for a community to exist within a social system.

Tönnies' work also caused thinkers like Hawthorne, Emerson, and Thoreau to illustrate the domination of the individual spirit by industrialism, which they saw as an unchecked danger, causing confusion, desperation and an alienation of spirit that can separate humans from their essence, their activities, objects, work, and other people. Is there any reason to hope for a better world as we move into the 21st Century? Can virtual communities help to heal the human spirit and offer the development of a new kind of community that heralds individual input and a revival of some of the basic tenants of humanitarian living?

This review of the literature for virtual communities is meant to offer an overview of some of the key work done in the area and to give some idea of the ethical dimensions, gender issues, psychological ramifications, communication patterns, and social repercussions that form a part of the development and use of new information technologies in a social context.

General Works

In "The Virtual Community," Rheingold (1993) defines virtual communities as "social aggregations that emerge from the [Internet] when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace" (p. 5). Rheingold postulates that community in cyberspace has burgeoned in part due to a public lament over the disappearance of informal public spaces in our real existence and in part due to the pioneering spirit of "Netsurfers" who are attracted to virtual community by means of interacting with other people on a completely novel level.

"The Virtual Community" examines the social and political ramifications of computer networking which, in Rheingold's view, is having a profound affect on the nature of democratic discourse. He suggests that computer-based communication has introduced a new form of human social life called "virtual communities" -- groups of people linked by their participation in computer networks. People in virtual communities share many of the characteristics of people in ordinary communities, Rheingold says, yet they have no face-to-face contact, are not bound by the constraints of time or place, and use computers to communicate with one another. After tracing the history of what he calls "the Net" -- the web of "loosely interconnected computer networks that link people around the world into public discussions" -- Rheingold explores some of the many possibilities of virtual communities, from electronic mail to global bulletin boards to real-time computer conferencing. He then examines how the Net operates overseas, particularly in Japan and France where new computer technologies have been met with greater political resistance than in the United States. He also looks at the widening circles of cyberspace, which he refers to as the "electronic frontier," particularly the innovative methods network pioneers and online activists have used to counter the growing pressures of corporate control and government regulation.

Despite his concerns about commercialization and government intervention, Rheingold is skeptical of the sort of technological utopianism that characterizes many online enthusiasts. The notion that new technologies can cure our social and political ills "is a kind of millennial, even messianic, hope, apparently ever-latent in the breasts of the citizenry," he observes. The power of electronic democracy, and computer networking in particular, is that it can radically decentralize political communication and reinvigorate the public sphere. But "the Net that is a marvelous lateral network can also be used as a kind of invisible yet inescapable cage," he adds, subject to the whims of "malevolent political leaders" or "the owners of television networks, newspaper syndicates, and publishing conglomerates." In conclusion, he says that "instead of falling under the spell of a sales pitch, or rejecting new technologies as instruments of illusion, we need to look closely at new technologies and ask how they could help build stronger, more humane communities -- and how they might be obstacles to that goal."

Rheingold claims that his "sense of place" within his WELL virtual community is strong, partly because it serves as what Oldenburg (1991) refers to as the last of the three essential places in people's lives: the place they live, the place they work, and the place they gather for conviviality. These third places, Oldenburg argues, are where community is built and sustained. The WELL is this place for Rheingold: he likens his WELL community to a neighborhood salon or coffee shop where he visits friends for conversation, whether idle chat or spirited debate about philosophical or political issues; for gathering information on subjects ranging from child care to medicine, or for supporting members of the community during trying circumstances. This ability to network, gain knowledge, or find communion within cyberspace is, according to Rheingold (1994), the social glue that binds formerly isolated individuals into a community.

Rheingold, H. (1993). The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

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. 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. Cafes, barbershops, and pubs once provided this environment, but in the age of shopping malls, drive-in fast food, shrinking public space, and residential 'cocooning,' this need for conviviality is left unfulfilled. Modernity, Oldenburg argues, has established a culture in which the home and the workplace remain as the only two interactive spheres of existence. It should not be surprising then that millions of people throughout the world turn to the Internet to recreate and reestablish the third sphere of conviviality.

Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through the Day. (New York: Paragon House, 1989).

Jones (1995), like Rheingold and Oldenburg, shares the view that newsgroups, bulletin boards, and other forms of computer-mediated communication have sprung out of the need to re-create this sense of community, that participants join and become involved with the express purpose of reestablishing a social bonds.

Critical to the rhetoric surrounding the information highway is the promise of a renewed sense of community and, in many instances, new types and formations of community. Computer-mediated communication, it seems, will do, by way of electronic pathways, what cement roads were unable to do: namely, connect us rather than atomize us, put as at the controls of a 'vehicle' and yet not detach us from the rest of the world. (Jones, 1995: 11)

In reviewing community literature as it relates to the Internet, Steven Jones, (1995) uses Effrat's notion of community, which has three principal components: (1) community as solidarity institutions; (2) community as primary interaction; and (3) community as institutionally distinct groups. Jones (1995) suggests that the third of these, community as institutionally distinct groups, makes the most sense in the context of CMC. Jones says that all three of these features appear in CMC.

Jones goes on to argue that there is a need to conceptualize community as a complex of social relationships, which has not been sufficiently explored. He argues that CMC is socially produced space, in which spatiality is distinguished from physical space. Jones is saying that this is, in effect, a new kind of space that is not physical space, but instead is a kind of socially created space. Since CMC decenters place, it challenges the traditional framework as community being based on proximate geographic space. Jones addresses this issue when he states that "communities formed by CMC have been called 'virtual communities' and defined as incontrovertibly social spaces in which people still meet face-to-face, but under new definitions of both 'meet' and 'face'" (Jones, 1995:19). Therefore, for Jones, community is predicated on the common beliefs, interests, knowledge, and information apart from physical space. Community consists of social networks and social interaction. Community is no longer a "where."

Jones reviews such early work as Licklider and Taylor who discuss what interactive communities on-line would not be: communities with the same geographical area. These communities would be people with common interests and goals. This view of community differs from the traditional view of community sociology as that of "locality-based action" which emphasizes geographic area. Jones (1995:24) uses Bender's (1978) definition of community, which views communities as social networks, not as places. This is similar to Wellman's (1979) notion of the "Liberated Community." Jones cites two reasons for using social networks as a definition useful for the study of community over the Internet and other forms of CMC. First, Jones argues that such a definition of community is based on social interaction, which creates communities. Second, this definition shifts the focus away from place. Jones argues that in studying CMC, it is necessary to put less emphasis on (but not eliminate completely) the consideration of bounded geographical territory (Jones, 1995:24).

Jones goes on to discuss the literature related to pseudo-community and the decentering of place. Jones uses Beniger's definition of pseudo-community, a "reversal of a centuries old trend from organic community based on personal relationships, to impersonal associations integrated by mass means" (Beniger, 1987:369). Jones discussion takes us from the traditional communal relationships (Gemeinschaft) to highly impersonal associations (Gesellschaft), moving from face-to-face dialogue as community to symbolic or indirect group relationships. Jones borrowed the notion of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft from the work of Ferdinand Tönnies. Jones is unclear about what he means by the decentering of place, but obviously, the Internet removes the emphasis on place found in a traditional Gemeinschaft-type community. Jones suggests that the actual role of computer-mediated communication as community still has not been fully settled.

Jones, S.G., ed. Cybersociety: Computer-mediated Communication and Community. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ludlow (1996) examines the social change brought about by the introduction of computer technology as it relates to the idea of community. He states that "with that change has come a sense of alienation and loss of community. Increasingly, though, it becomes possible to recreate that lost community in cyberspace, by forming communities of interest that are not bound by the accidents of geography." He continues by asking if they are really communities (Ludlow, 1996:xv). Ludlow addresses the issue of whether you can really call someone a 'neighbor' if you can't see her face or hear her voice (Ludlow, 1996:xv). He questions the idea of 'the virtual community.' He also asks that if we give our allegiances to virtual communities, are we abandoning our geographic communities in a sort of 'urban flight'? (Ludlow, 1996:xv). Ludlow also asks to what extent should other communities, and the legal system itself, acknowledge and respect virtual communities? (Ludlow, 1996:xv).

Ludlow, Peter. 1996. High Noon on the Electronic Frontier: Conceptual Issues in Cyberspace. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Smith (1992) developed a model illustrating the defining characteristics of virtual communities. This model (Smith, 1992, p. 18) illustrates the manner in which the overlying environmental characteristics of CMC derive from the four primary physical characteristics that Smith identifies. In brief, the fact that CMC is aspatial (participants are not copresent, or face to face), asynchronous (communication cannot be simultaneous), acorporal (participants are not subject to the threat of bodily force), and has a low bandwidth (very little information can be transferred, leading to text-only interactions), results in its being astigmatic (allowing only a distorted view of fellow participants) and anonymous (allowing no reliable way of identifying fellow participants).

Smith (1992) further demonstrates that, despite these defining and somewhat limiting characteristics, virtual communities nonetheless produce and exchange goods, develop monitoring and sanctioning systems, create gathering places, and experience success and failure just as conventional communities do.

Smith, M.A. (1992). Voices from the WELL: The Logic of the Virtual Commons. Unpublished Master's thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.

In his popular book Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte observes that the digital revolution has removed many of the limitations of geography. "Digital living," he says, "will include less and less dependence upon being in a specific place at a specific time, and the transmission of place itself will start to become possible." Howard Rheingold acknowledges this possibility, but the virtual community, as he sees it, actually does require some ties to physical community. Most of the stories he tells in The Virtual Community involve people who live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Negroponte, Nicholas. (1995). Being Digital. New York: Afred A. Knopf.

Wellman B, Gulia M. (1998). Net Surfers Don't Ride Alone: Virtual Communities as Communities. In P. Kollock & M. Smith (Eds). Communities in Cyberspace. London: Routledge.

Wellman, B. (1999). The Network Community. In Wellman, B., ed, Networks in the Global Village. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Communication researchers and sociologists did not really begin studying the Internet until 1978, when Hiltz and Turoff wrote the book, The Network Nation.

Hiltz, S. R., & Turoff, M. (1978). The Network Nation: Human Communication Via Computer. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

CMC Communications

Kiesler, Siegel and McGuire (1984) identify four features that distinguish CMC from conventional forms of communication: 1) an absence of regulating feedback, 2) incomplete or limited expressions of emotion, 3) a lack of social status cues, and 4) social anonymity. (These features have been collectively referred to as the "filtered-cues theory," as described in Chapter 1.) In a subsequent paper, Kiesler (1986) elaborates on the impact anonymity can have on communication:

When communication lacks dynamic personal information, people focus their attention on the message rather than on each other. Communicators feel a greater sense of anonymity and detect less individuality in others than they do talking on the phone or face-to-face. They feel less empathy, less guilt, less concern over how they compare with others, and are less influenced by norms (p. 48).

Kiesler (1986) further explains that the receivers in CMC constitute an easily accessible audience that is in fact a "social hodgepodge" and "the only clue the sender has to the receiver's identity and situation may be his or her name and writing style" (p. 48). Other commonly used indications of the receiver's status, gender, race, and appearance, are missing.

Kiesler, S., Siegal, J., & McGuire, T., (1984). Social Psychological Aspects of Computer-mediated Communication. American Psychologist, 39 (10): 1123-1134.

Kiesler, S. (1986). The Hidden Message in Computer Networks. Harvard Business Review, 64(1): 46-58.

Smith (1992), in his sociological study of the WELL, identifies six aspects of virtual interaction that can have a significant impact on communication:

Smith (1992) points out that the partial or complete anonymity of the participants is partially a result of the effects that the first five aspects have on the communication environment.

Smith, M.A. (1992). Voices from the WELL: The Logic of the Virtual Commons. Unpublished Master's thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.

Clearly these and other researchers (Kiesler, Siegel, and McGuire, 1984; Hellerstein, 1985; MacKinnon, 1992) have concluded that people who communicate via CMC are not subject to many of the self-imposed controls that customarily regulate communications via other media.

Hellerstein, J.E. (1985). The Social Use of Electronic Communication at a Major University. Computers and the Social Sciences, 1(3): 191-197.

MacKinnon, R.C. (1992). Searching for the Leviathan in Usenet. Unpublished master's thesis, San Jose State University.

Critics

Not everyone views the concept of Virtual Community in a completely positive light.

Langdon Winner, in his article Who Will Be in Cyberspace? questions the notion that Virtual Communities will create a culture of participatory democracy.

Winner, Langdon. Who Will Be in Cyberspace? Information Society v12, n1 (Jan-Mar 1996): 63-72.

Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure? by Jan Fernback and Brad Thompson criticizes what the authors believe is a misunderstanding of the concept of community. Fernback and Thompson (1995) argue that "the term virtual community is more indicative of an assemblage of people being 'virtually' a community than being a real community in the nostalgic sense". At the same time Fernback and Thompson do not reject the use of the term; in fact, they specifically state that their "comments should not be construed as protests against the corruption of a term" as the word "community has a dynamic meaning".

Fernback, J., and B. Thompson. (1995, May). Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure? Presented as "Computer-mediated Communication and the American Collectivity" at the Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association, Albuquerque, New Mexico, May, 1995.

Virtuality and Its Discontents: Searching for Community in Cyberspace is adapted from the book Life on the Screen by Sherry Turkle. It examines the character of the kinds of community that are created with network communications.

Turkle, S. (1996). Virtuality and its Discontents: Searching for Community in Cyberspace. The American Prospect, 24, 50-57.

A Rape in Cyberspace: How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society by Julian Dibbell is a bizarre story about the difficulty in drawing the line between real life and virtual life. The residents of LambdaMOO experienced a virtual rape right in their "living room" and this forced them to evaluate the meaning of freedom, ethics and morality in virtual spaces.

Dibbell, J. (1993, December 21). A Rape in Cyberspace: How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database into a Society. The Village Voice, pp. 36-42.

There can be an ugly side to CMC, including threats, violations of privacy, sexual harassment, even virtual rape. Brenda Danet, Lucia Ruedenberg-Wright, and Yehudit Rosenbaum-Tamari (1997) assert that cyberspace is "by no means wholly benign," and that CMC can release "aggressive, even shockingly malicious behavior, including sexual harassment and racism."

Danet, B., L. Reudenberg-Wright, and Y. Rosenbaum-Tamari. (1997). Hmmm...Where's that Smoke Coming From?: Writing, Play and Performance on Internet Relay Chat. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 2(4).

Clifford Stoll asserts in his 1995 book, Silicon Snake Oil that claims about the Internet as a community are false and that the Internet can only provide the illusion of community. Stoll says: "Computer networks isolate us from one another, rather than bringing us together." This quote would certainly seem to imply that computer networks do not allow for the formation of social ties, but that such networks prevent the formation of social ties, like the kind that characterize community.

Stoll, Clifford. (1995). Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway. New York: Anchor Books.

Parks and Floyd indicate that other analysts have also questioned claims about the Internet as a community and have similarly argued that "only the illusion of community can be created by Cyberspace" (Parks and Floyd, 1996: 80).

Parks, M., & Floyd, K. (1996). Making Friends in Cyberspace. Journal of Communication, 46: 80-97.

While many sociological definitions of community do not exclude the possibility that virtual communities are new forms of community, connotations associated with the word suggest to some authors that a better label could be found. For example, Shenk in Data Smog (1997) argues that group-CMC do not foster communities, which are naturally inclusive, but are rather more limited "microcultures". Shenk is a representative critic of Rheingold's rosy view of virtual communities.

Nevertheless, Shenk too uses the term in his book to refer to certain forms of group-CMC (p.111). It seems that Shenk is rejecting some of the ideological baggage attached to the label virtual community by Rheingold and others, rather than the use of the term itself to refer to a particular class of group-CMC.

Shenk, D. (1997). Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut. New York: HarperCollins.

Calhoun (1991) argues that the modern condition is one of 'indirect social relationships' in which connectivity with others is more imagined, or parasocial, than 'real.' The media's ability to broaden the range of our experiences creates the illusion of greater contact or membership in large-scale social organizations. 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 that 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 (p. 107).

Calhoun, C. (1991). Indirect Relationships and Imagined Communities: Large-Scale Social Integration and the Transformation of Everyday Life. In P. Bourdieu and J. S. Colemen (eds.), Social Theory for a Changing Society (pp. 95-120). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

McClellan (1994) claims that the character of virtual communities can be as provincial as small town communities. He notes that the WELL has been criticized as too "New Agey" and "little more than a middle-class residents association in cyberspace" (p. 10). McClellan criticizes cyberspace communities as pseudocommunities that have only the appearance of true social bonding. He states:

Rather than providing a replacement for the crumbling public realm, virtual communities are actually contributing to its decline. They're another thing keeping people indoors and off the streets. Just as TV produces couch potatoes, so on-line culture creates mouse potatoes, people who hide from real life and spend their whole life goofing off in cyberspace (p 10).

McClellan, J. (1994, February 13). Netsurfers. The Observer.

One criticism of computer-mediated communities is that they are unable to foster substantive and genuine personal relationships (Parks, 1996; Beninger, 1987) and that they are more likely to produce social isolation than connectivity (Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire, 1984).

Parks, M., & Floyd, K. (1996). Making Friends in Cyberspace. Journal of Communication, 46: 80-97.

Beninger, J. R. (1987). Personalization of Mass Media and the Growth of Pseudo-Community. Communication Research 14: 352-371.

Kiesler, S., Siegal, J., & McGuire, T., (1984). Social Psychological Aspects of Computer-mediated Communication. American Psychologist, 39 (10): 1123-1134.

Chuq Von Rospach warns in his A Primer on How to Work With the Usenet Community (1997): "Never forget that the person on the other side is human," asserting that because in CMC you are connecting to a network via computer, it is "easy to forget that there are people 'out there.' And the personal relationships one makes may not always be positive, supportive ones.

Von Rospach, C. (1987). A Primer on How to Work with the Usenet Community.

Mark Dery (1994) defines flame wars as "vitriolic on-line exchanges, often conducted publicly." Another definition is "sudden, often extended flare-ups of anger, profanity and insult" (Danet, 1997). Less often, "flames" are in the form of "poison pen letters" via e-mail. Dery describes it as follows:

...the wraithlike nature of electronic communication--the flesh become word, the send reincarnated as letters floating on a terminal screen--accelerates the escalation of hostilities when tempers flare; disembodied, sometimes pseudonymous combatants tend to feel that they can hurl insults without impunity.

Dery, Mark, ed. (1994). Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Edward Mabry (1997), in Framing Flames: The Structure of Argumentative Messages on the Net, defines flames as "messages that are precipitate, often personally derogatory, ad hominem attacks directed toward someone due to a position taken in a message distributed (posted) to the group." Mabry studies CMC use of "framing" strategies within "flames," hypothesizing that "framing strategies are related to the emotional tenor of a disputant's message" and that the emotional involvement would be "curvilin early related to the appropriation of framing as an argumentative discourse strategy" (Mabry, 1997). Mabry asserts that the acceptance, and perhaps even "cultivation" of argumentative discourse, such as flaming in CMC stands in "sharp contrast to the conventions of ordinary social conversation." Imagine attacking someone with the vehemence found in some flames "in real life." One interesting finding of this study is that the communicators seemed to try to "neutralize" effects of negative emotional spirals when they arise.

Sherry Turkle (1996) explains that "virtual rape" can occur within a MUD if one player finds a way to "control the actions of another player's character and thus 'force' that character to have sex" (55). Turkle goes on to ask if a virtual community, which "exists entirely in the realm of communication," dare ignore sexual aggression "that takes the form of words"?

[urkle, S. (1996). Virtuality and its Discontents: Searching for Community in Cyberspace. The American Prospect, 24: 50-57.

And finally, in The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst Steve Talbott asks some serious questions about how the Internet is affecting our culture and if in fact, we are surrendering ourselves to it and constructing mechanized communities within its web, instead of a more humane world.

Talbott, Steve. (1995). The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly & Associates.

Gender

In the research by Susan Herring, which focused on the issue of gender and democracy in CMC, an academic discussion list was monitored over the period of a year. Herring identifies the research methods that she used as ethnographic observation of the group, analysis of the content of the discussions, and survey/feedback forms. The data that Herring collected led to the identification of several gender differences in communication, which she classifies as amount, topic, and manner of discussion. The first two classifications refer to the relational style differences, while the manner classification refers to the linguistic differences between gender.

The amount findings refer to the actual amount of participation, which Herring found to be higher for males and lower for females. She attributes this to women feeling intimidated and discouraged by the way that their posts are responded to (Herring p. 4). She does point out that when women do post concerning a personal strong belief or viewpoint, that men openly objected to this assertiveness. She states, "when women's attempts at equal participation are the cause of male dissatisfaction and disruption of list functioning, a message is communicated to the effect that it is more appropriate for women to participate less" (Herring p. 6).

This silencing of women in discussion is yet another power/domination struggle in communication. The intimidation and aggressiveness is behavior that is off-putting to women, yet is commonplace in male communication.

These findings indicate that CMC is in fact very similar to face to face communication, with women seeking personal topics and men wanting strictly information. If one compares this incident of online discussion with that of an in person conversation, the variables are not very different. For example, girls in high school are often chatting with each other and spending countless hours on the phone while boys are content to just converse as needed during school hours.

In other research by Susan Herring, the styles and values of computer mediated communication are examined. She approaches the differences in interaction styles of men and women by differentiating between a male style and a female style. Other work on gender differences has focused on men and women's participation. Susan Herring (1992, 1993, 1994) has found significant gender differences. At a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of American, Herring (1992) reported on gender differences she had observed on the LINGUIST discussion list. She had noticed that women were not participating on this academic discussion list, so she surveyed the participants to find out why. She found that neither men nor women like adversarial discussions, but that women react differently; they produce less adversarial discourse and participate less. Herring attributes this different reaction to men and women's different communication preferences.

In a later article, Herring (1993) discusses more of her research on the LINGUIST discussion list, as well as research she had done on the Megabyte University (MBU) discussion list (both lists are academic in nature). She found that women posted messages less frequently than men, and that when they did post messages, they were shorter. Also, the messages sent by women received fewer responses than those sent by men; topics initiated by women were also less likely to be discussed. She observed one instance in which women's participation rates were equal to men's, but there was a backlash. The men complained that the topics were inappropriate and that the tone of the discussion was hostile; some men threatened to leave the list. Herring says that the men's complaints may have been coincidental, but that at no other time during her observations did anyone threaten to leave the list. She inferred from these observations that the men were sending an implicit message to the effect that it is not appropriate or normal for women to participate as much as men.

From these observations, Herring (1993) also gleaned that men and women participate in different discussions. Men are most likely to participate in discussions involving issues and least likely to participate in personal discussions. Women are most likely to participate in personal discussions and least likely to ask for information. Not only do men and women participate in different discussions, but Herring (1993) also says that they have different on-line communication styles. Men make strong assertions, engage in self-promotion, make presuppositions, ask rhetorical questions, have an authoritative orientation, challenge others, and use sarcasm. Women, on the other hand, use attenuated assertions, make explicit justifications, ask questions, have a more personal orientation, support others, and use humor (rather than sarcasm). While men use this distinctive masculine style of communications, Herring claims that women must use both a feminine style and a masculine style so that they appear academic but not aggressive.

Herring (1993) also looked at dominance in these discussion lists. She observed that 5% of the participants were responsible for the adversarial rhetoric (all but one of the 5% were male) and for the majority of postings. When she later surveyed the participants about the discussions that had taken place, she found that most of the men and women were irritated and/or intimidated by the discussions; however, men accepted the adversarial discourse as a normal part of academic life and were not averse to participating. Women, on the other hand, were averse to participating and avoided this type of discussion.

Herring explains these findings using a socialization argument. She argues that boys and girls learn sex-appropriate behavior; girls learn to please others and to be nice; thus they perceive verbal aggressiveness as a personal attack, while men perceive it as a part of everyday conversation. She also says that social conditioning makes women uncomfortable with confrontation. Since much of the discussion on the lists was adversarial and confrontational in nature, women were intimidated and did not attempt to participate as much. Another factor influencing women's low participation rates is the fact that their posts are often ignored. Herring also claims that women may have lower participation rates due to overt and covert censorship, while the men did not directly complain about women participating at an equal rate, they did complain about other aspects of the discussion. Herring sees this as a form of covert censorship.

Herring, Susan C. (1992). Gender and Participation in Computer-Mediated Linguistic Discourse. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, Philadelphia, PA.

Herring, Susan C. (1993). Gender and Democracy in Computer-Mediated Communication. Electronic Journal of Communication, 3(2).

Herring, Susan C. (1994). Gender Differences in Computer-Mediated Communication: Bringing Familiar Baggage to the New Frontier. Keynote talk at American Library Association Annual Convention, Miami, FL.

In the research conducted by Sharmila Pixy Ferris, CMC is examined to determine whether or not cyberspace is a gender-neutral communication environment. Ferris also questions if CMC simply mirrors social reality (Ferris p. 4). For her research, Ferris uses several methods to test her hypothesis: enthnographic observation of a discussion group, linguistic analysis of postings to determine conversational differences, and comparison to other research conducted on this topic (Ferris p. 4). She states that before CMC communication can be looked at that the characteristics of gendered communication in general must be looked at.

In addition to her own research findings, Ferris also compares her work with research that has already been conducted on this subject. She finds that within all the research conducted that CMC in fact does not promote democracy in communication. She states: "In fact, while CMC does appear to provide women some freedom to make their voices heard, it appears to exacerbate some of the differences in language use" (Ferris p.4). She also points out that some differences are not applicable online, such as interruptions, which actually gives women a chance to have their say. She does assert that the nature of CMC plays a role here, as it is easy to 'ignore' unwanted communication by simply deleting messages" (Ferris p. 5).

In her observations, Ferris saw only one of four topics that was initiated by a woman. The woman's initial message was only 120 words long. When the regular male participants responded (which they did not do until a few of the new members initially responded), their messages were 2.5 to 8.3 times as long as the original message. Her findings support the work done by others, such as Collins-Jarvis (1995) and Ebben (1993) that men are more adversarial and women are more supportive. Consistent with Herring's findings, Ferris found that women express doubt more often, are more apologetic and appreciative, and focus more on community-building.

Ferris also looked at the difference in slang usage and the usage of swear words. She found that there was no difference in use of slang, but that men continue to swear more than women, even on-line. Ferris (1996) also looked at the use of emotext and emoticons. Emotext consists of "lexical substitutes for non-verbal cues," while emoticons are "visual arrangements of text characters to symbolize emotions." Ferris said that she did not observe any differences in the use of emotext or emoticons; however she seems to assume that men and women differ in their use of emotext and emoticons despite her own lack of findings in this area.

Ferris (1996) says that there is a gender difference in relational communication; men and women's conversational purpose is different. She claims that men want to establish control while women want to maintain a dialogue. She says that women are also more focused on positive interactions. Ferris concludes that the material presented in her paper supports the idea of gender differences in CMC, and that instead of CMC mitigating face to face differences, it actually exacerbates them.

Ferris, Sharmila Pixy (1996). Women On-line: Cultural and Relational Aspects of Women's Communication in On-line Discussion Groups. Interpersonal Computing and Technology, 4: 29-40.

Collins-Jarvis, L. (1995). Explaining Gender Group Discrimination in Computer-Mediated Communication: A Social Identity Approach. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender. Minneapolis, MN.

Ebben, M. M. (1993). Women on the Net: An Exploratory Study of Gender Dynamics on the soc.women Computer Network. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender. Temple, AZ.

Hoai-An Truong also focuses her research on gender and online communication issues. She takes a somewhat different approach than the previous researchers, by not analyzing the linguistic angle of communication as in depth and instead focusing on broad issues concerning CMC. Truong believes that gender is a factor in CMC differences and states: "Many women find that gender follows them into the on-line community, and sets a tone for their public and private interactions there" (Truong p. 2).

She deals with issues such as legislation and network policies and the lack of women in technology related fields, by suggesting ways that women can become involved in these areas. Truong states:

If Network policies and legislation are going to determine access to information and participation in public media for this and the next generations, it is critical that they reflect and address the perspectives of women and people of color to avoid further marginalization of these constituencies" (Truong p. 2).

Truong discusses differences in communication styles, but does not analyze the linguistics of the language used. Instead, she approaches an aspect that previous research has not dealt with. She states: "People will say things on-line that they will not say face to face. In addition, missing elements of conversation, such as facial expression, vocal cues, and other conventions have a complex effect on online interactions. Additionally, there are unresolved difficulties in the frank discussion and expression of sexuality between men and women, in which intent is often misunderstood" (Truong p. 6).

Truong's discusses the different communication styles men and women have and says that women participate in fewer discussions because of these differences. Herring and Truong agree that the predominate style in CMC is a male style and that this male style intimidates women, thus decreasing their participation. Truong also points to disinhibition as a cause of women's lack of participation; she says that demeaning communication is common on-line due to missing nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions. This demeaning communication discourages women from participating. Sexual harassment is also a problem; not only do women often hear sexist jokes (as Kramarae and Taylor 1993 point out), but they are also inundated with messages from men, who are not always polite.

Truong, Hoai-An. (1993). Gender Issues in Online Communication. Paper presented at a meeting of the Bay Area Women in Telecommunications.

Kramarae, C. and Taylor, J. (1993). Women and Men on Electronic Networks: A Conversation or a Monologue? In Women, Information Technology, and Scholarship, 52-61. Urbana, IL: Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Impersonating a member of the opposite sex is a fairly common practice in the world of CMC. Bruckman (1993) reports that both men and women are aware of extra attention female personae attract in virtual communities called MUDs (multi-user domains). As a result, men often log onto MUDs as women (Bruckman, 1993), and Curtis (1992) reports that the most sexually aggressive of the "female" MUD inhabitants often are men.

Bruckman, A. (1993). Gender-swapping on the Internet. Unpublished paper presented at the Internet Society, San Francisco.

Curtis, P. (1992). Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-based Virtual Realities. From the proceedings of the 1992 Conference on Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing, Berkeley, CA.

The arrival of women onto the CMC scene has sparked interest in communication differences between men and women. Early studies suggested that CMC was democratic. (Hiltz & Turoff 1978, Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire 1984, Rice & Love 1987, Graddol & Swann 1989, and Connolly, Jessup & Valacich 1990). Later studies have shown that gender differences in communication, such as those described by Deborah Tannen (1990), persist in CMC (Matheson 1991, Herring 1992, Ebben, 1993, Kramarae & Taylor 1993, Herring 1993, We 1993, Truong 1993, Herring 1994, Cherny 1994, Collins-Jarvis 1995, Ferris 1996, Savicki, Lingenfelter & Kelley 1996, Witmer & Katzman 1997, and Smith & McLaughlin 1997).

Matheson's (1991) research continues the work of Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire (1984) in that she looks at social cues and whether gender makes a difference. She talks about other-awareness and self-awareness. She says that CMC users, in comparison with face to face groups, have reduced other-awareness, are less influenced by social norms and pressure (much like what Kiesler, Siegel & McGuire argued), exhibit more uninhibited behavior, are less amenable to the ideas of others, downplay their social desirability, and exhibit less public self-awareness. (Matheson 1991) However, she also claims that CMC increases private self-awareness. Matheson's thesis is that this increased private self-awareness makes people highly responsive to available social cues. Based on their feelings, attitudes, and values, they respond to available social cues; in other words, they respond to available social cues based on stereotypes they hold because CMC makes them more aware of these feelings and attitudes.

She did empirical research to test this thesis; she hypothesized that if CMC users are more responsive to social cues, then the available cues should affect their behavior, perceptions, and expectations. Her methods were such that half of the respondents were informed of the other's gender and half were not. The other "person" was actually a computer program. Those who were informed of gender were told that the other person was the same gender; that is, if the subject was female, she was told that the other person was also female.

She hypothesized that expectations, behaviors, and perceptions would be consistent with gender stereotypes. Subjects would expect women to be more cooperative and fair and men to be more aggressive and competitive. As far as expectations, females who were informed expected the other person to be fair. Of those who were not informed, there was no difference in expectations. The same pattern was found concerning perceptions: females who were informed perceived the other person to be more fair and less exploitative than did the males who were informed.

Those who were not informed did not differ in their perceptions of the other person. As far as behavior, she found that females who were informed said that they behaved less competitively than did the males, but there were no other gender differences in behavior.

From this research, Matheson (1991) concluded that the subjects were sensitive to social cues. Females who were informed had expectations that were consistent with gender stereotypes. When not informed, there was no difference in behavior, expectations, or perceptions. Matheson says that the respondents seemed to assume that a competitor would be male, which is consistent with gender stereotypes. Females who were informed also perceived the other person in a stereotypical way: as more fair and less exploitative. Matheson retains her theory that CMC enhances private self-awareness, which in turn makes subjects more responsive to available social cues. When subjects are informed of the other person's gender, they have expectations and perceptions that are consistent with gender stereotypes. From this she concludes that "in CMC, females may be expected to be more emotional, submissive, and socially supportive, and less aggressive, ambitious, effective, and decisive, relative to males" (Matheson p. 144).

Matheson, Kimberly. (1991). Social Cues in Computer-Mediated Communication: Gender Makes a Difference. Computers in Human Behavior, 7, 137-145.

Elizabeth Lawley claims that gender is a social construct and that CMC allows for more fluid gender constructions. She does not argue that CMC is democratic; however, Lawley does say that the technology allows people to reshape their selves (gender identities) without reshaping their bodies. She says that people can "redefine themselves outside of the historical categories of "woman," "other," or "object" (Lawley 1993). She also makes a somewhat radical claim that "through the destabilization of current boundaries, we may be creating a society that no longer allows for discrimination based on biological characteristics" (Lawley 1993). She seems to conceptualize CMC as having gender differences, but allows for the possibility for these differences and this discrimination to be overcome by redefining gender constructions.

Lawley, Elizabeth Lane. (1993). Computers and the Communication of Gender.

One final study is somewhat unique in that the author looked at a synchronous form of CMC called multi-user dungeons or dimensions (MUDs). Cherny (1994) looked at different kinds of actions used by MUD participants. Whuggles, which are a kind of virtual hug, are more likely to be initiated by female characters. Women whuggle men more often than they hug them, but they hug and whuggle women at the same rates. Cherny believes that this is due to women's perceptions of hugs and whuggles. She claims that women view whuggles as safer than hugs because hugs have a real life significance; women feel safe in whuggling men because whuggles are less likely to be taken the wrong way (as a sign of sexual interest, for example). Killing is a common action in a MUD; however, killing is often not as violent as it sounds. Cherny says that killings usually signify disapproval over something that someone has said or done. She found that males were most likely to kill other males, next likely to kill things (objects in the game), and least likely to kill women. All males who were killed by a female were killed by the same female.

Cherny found that women do use physically aggressive actions; she claims that the women who do this have adapted to the male-dominated group discourse, but that women do in general seem to prefer less violent imagery. She also says that the overall pattern is suggestive of gender differences.

Cherny, Lynn. (1994). Gender Differences in Text-Based Virtual Reality. Proceedings of the Third Berkeley Women and Language Conference.

IRC and USENET

IRC is a multi-user synchronous communication facility that is available all over the world to people with access to the Internet. An extensive description of the technical and social characteristics of IRC can be found in Danet (1995), Danet, Reudenberg, and Rosenbaum-Tamari (1997), and Reid (1991). The rather simple functionalities of IRC systems define a basic technical framework which has been serving as a wonderful playground for group activities and has provided many possibilities for self-expression and group interaction (Bechar-Israel, 1995; Danet, 1995; Danet, Reudenberg, & Rosenbaum-Tamari, 1996; Reid, 1991; Turkle, 1995). Although the opportunities for virtual community development in IRC are abundant, there has been little research in this vein done specifically on IRC-based group communication.

Bechar-Israeli, H. (1995). From Bonehead to Clonehead: Nicknames, Play, and Identity on Internet Relay Chat. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 1(2).

Danet, B. (1995). Playful Expressivity and Artfulness in Computer-mediated Communication. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 1(2).

Danet, B., L. Reudenberg-Wright, and Y. Rosenbaum-Tamari. (1997). Hmmm...Where's that Smoke Coming From?: Writing, Play and Performance on Internet Relay Chat. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 2(4).

Reid, E.M. (1991). Electropolis: Communications and Community on Internet Relay Chat. Honors Thesis, Department of History, University of Melbourne.

Turkle, S., (1995). Life on the Screen. New York: Simon & Schuster.

There are two major works on IRC (Reid 1991; Danet et. al. 1997) and works on the history (Hardy 1993), and anthropology (North 1995) of USENET and the politics of USENET (McKinnon 1992; Hauben and Hauben 1993) and the WELL (Smith 1992). Surprisingly little has been done in the way of ethnographic studies of individual USENET newsgroups: a study of rec.arts.tv.soaps (Baym 1993, 1995) and a study of standards of conduct in five newsgroups (McLaughlin et. al. 1995) are the most notable exceptions.

Reid, E.M. (1991). Electropolis: Communications and Community on Internet Relay Chat. Honors Thesis, Department of History, University of Melbourne.

Danet, B., L. Reudenberg-Wright, and Y. Rosenbaum-Tamari. (1997). Hmmm...Where's that Smoke Coming From?: Writing, Play and Performance on Internet Relay Chat. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 2(4).

Hardy, Henry Edward. (1993, May 18). The Usenet System.

North, T. (1994). The Internet and Usenet Global Computer Networks: An Investigation of their Culture and its Effects on New Users. Unpublished Master's thesis, Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

Hauben, M. (1992). The Social Forces Behind the Development of Usenet News.

Hauben, M. (1993). The Net and Netizens: The Impact the Net has on People's Lives.

Smith, M. (1992). Voices from the WELL: The Logic of the Virtual Commons. Unpublished Master's thesis, University of California at Los Angeles.

Baym, N. (1995). From Practice to Culture on Usenet. In Susan Leigh Star (Ed.) The Cultures of Computing, 29-52. Sociological Review Monograph Series. London: Basil Blackwell.

Baym, N. (1995). The Emergence of Community in Computer-Mediated Communication. In Steven Jones (Ed.) Cybersociety: Computer-mediated Communication and Community, 138-163. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

McLaughlin, M. L., K.K. Osborne, and C.B. Smith. (1995). Standards of Conduct on Usenet. In S. G. Jones (Ed.), Cybersociety: Computer-mediated Communication and Community, (pp. 90-111). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Parks and Floyd (1996), in their study of the members of 24 different newsgroups, found that more than 60 percent of the subjects said they had formed a personal relationship with someone they first contacted through a newsgroup. While not specifically investigating the Internet in the context of a sociological conception of community, Parks and Floyd (1996) examined the nature of relationships on the USENET part of the Internet. Parks and Floyd used a survey and came up with some empirical findings about the nature of relationships. They found, for example that women were significantly more likely to have formed on-line relationships, and greater numbers of such relationships, than men. Parks and others (see Thomsen, 1996, for example), note that these relationships build over time and often are continued through the use of other communications channels (i.e., telephone, the postal service) and often lead to face-to-face encounters. In fact, length of time and degree of participation, not surprisingly, contribute to greater rates of relationship building (Parks, 1996). Parks and Floyd assert from their findings that "high levels of relational development are occurring" via CMC, in the case of their study, through Usenet newsgroups and e-mail.

Parks, M., and K. Floyd. (1996). Making Friends in Cyberspace. Journal of Communication 46: 80-97.

Rheingold (1993) gives an in-depth discussion of community and CMC on the Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Communication on IRC is stripped to the bare essentials on a computer screen (Rheingold, 1993). His experiences as a member of the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (WELL) on-line community is the basis for much of his view of computer culture. He states that there is something real about the on-line community: "There's always another mind there. It's like having the corner bar, complete with old buddies and delightful newcomers ... and fresh graffiti and letters, except instead of putting on my coat, shutting down the computer and walking down to the corner, I just invoke my telecom program and there they are. It's a place" (Rheingold, 1993:24).

Rheingold, H. (1993). The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Elizabeth Reid (1991) argues that chat-rooms are communities. As she attempts to construct communities, Reid (1991: 32-33) quotes Geertz's (1963) understanding of culture as a "system of meanings that give significance to shared behaviours which must be interpreted from the perspective of those engaged in them." Reid goes on to state that community does exist on the IRC. It is created through collective beliefs and symbolic strategies. In a study of IRC, a CMC environment that provides immediate feedback, Reid (1991) supports the notion that the distinct aspects of text-based interactions have generally profound impacts on communication:

It is not only the meanings of sentences that become problematic in computer-mediated communication. The standards of behaviour that are normally decided upon by non-verbal cues are not clearly indicated when information is purely verbal.

Reid (1991) explains that non-verbal cues such as smiles and frowns are lost in CMC, along with factors of environment (tone of voice, attire, etc.) on the basis of which one normally decides what forms of social etiquette are appropriate. Further elaborating on these aspects of anonymity in the IRC environment, Reid (1991) states:

How an IRC user "looks" to another user is entirely dependent upon information supplied by that person. It becomes possible to play with identity. The boundaries delineated by cultural constructs of beauty, ugliness, fashionableness or unfashionableness, can be bypassed on IRC. It is possible to appear to be, quite literally, whoever you wish.

As Reid (1991) summarizes:

Researchers of human behaviour on computer-mediated communication systems have often noted that users of such systems tend to behave in a more uninhibited manner than they would in face-to-face encounters. The lack of social context cues obscures the boundaries that would generally separate acceptable and unacceptable forms of behaviour. Furthermore, the essential physical impression of each user that he is alone releases him from the social expectations incurred in group interaction. Computer-mediated communication is less bound by conventions than is face-to-face interaction. With little regulating feedback to govern behaviour, users behave in ways that would not generally be acceptable with people who are essentially total strangers.

Reid, E.M. (1991). Electropolis: Communications and Community on Internet Relay Chat. Honors Thesis, Department of History, University of Melbourne.

Serpentelli (1992) utilized a similar approach, logging exchanges in MOO settings and on IRC channels and analyzing the content of these exchanges using a pre-established coding scheme.

Serpentelli, Jill. (1992). Conversational Structure and Personality Correlates of Electronic Communication.

Also, Nancy Baym (1995) uses the example of a Usenet group rec.arts.tv.soaps (r.a.t.s.) to assert that Usenet participants can create a "dynamic and rich community filled with social nuance and emotion," finding a highly social, interactive community within Usenet (138).

Baym, N. (1995). From Practice to Culture on Usenet. In Susan Leigh Star (Ed.) The Cultures of Computing, 29-52. Sociological Review Monograph Series. London: Basil Blackwell.

Baym, N. (1995). The Emergence of Community in Computer-Mediated Communication. In Steven Jones (Ed.) CyberSociety, 138-163. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

In Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet, Ronda Hauben and Michael Hauben map out how Usenet developed as a form of "poor man's ARPANET" to become a backbone of international conversation. The authors hold Usenet up as an example of user-controlled communication, showing how communities can be successful even in an area lacking formal rules, or lacking the means to enforce the rules (IEEE Computer Society, May 1997).

MUDs

MUDs and MUD interactions have been studied by a number of researchers. The term MUD originally stood for Multi-User Dungeon, the name given by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw for the game they designed in 1978.

The original system consisted of a database of textual descriptions of a fantastic world of the swords and sorcery genre. Through reading these descriptions players could journey through the virtual world. Players could communicate with one another, could cooperate on adventures together or fight against each other and create new objects, or descriptions of objects, that others could then interact with.

By far the largest body of work on Internet communities deals with MUDs (Bartle 1990; Bruckman 1992, 1993; Bruckman and Resnick 1993; Carlstrom 1992; Curtis 1992; Curtis and Nichols 1993; Cherny 1994a, 1994b, 1995; Reid 1994, 1995; Rosenberg 1992). Almost all these works deal with individual communities rather than MUDs in general. (except Reid 1994, see below)

Bartle, R. (1990). Interactive Multi-user Computer Games. MUSE Ltd. Research Report.

Bruckman, A. (1992). Identity Workshop: Emergent Social and Psychological Phenomena in Text-based Reality. Unpublished paper.

Carlstrom, E. (1992). Better Living Through Language: The Communicative Implications of a Text-only Virtual Environment. Unpublished paper.

Curtis, P. (1992). Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-based Virtual Realities. From the proceedings of the 1992 Conference on Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing, Berkeley, CA.

Curtis, P., and D. Nichols. (1993). MUDs Grow Up: Social Virtual Reality in the Real World. Report presented to Xerox PARC, Palo Alto, CA.

Cherny, Lynn. (1994). Gender Differences in Text-Based Virtual Reality. Proceedings of the Third Berkeley Women and Language Conference.

Cherny, L. (1995a). The MUD Register: Conversational Modes of Action in a Text-based Virtual Reality. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Stanford University Linguistics Department.

Cherny, L. (1995b). The Modal Complexity of Speech Events in a Social MUD. Electronic Journal of Communication, 5(4).

Cherny, L. (1995c). Objectifying the Body in the Discourse of an Object-oriented MUD. In Stivale, C. (Ed.), Cyberspaces: Pedagogy and Performance on the Electronic Frontier, special issue of Works and Days, 26, Fall 1995.

Cherny, L. (1995d). The Situated Behavior of MUD Back-Channels. Paper presented at the AAAI Spring Symposium, Stanford, March 1995, in the session on Empirical Methods in Discourse Analysis.

Reid, E. (1994). Cultural Formations in Text-Based Virtual Realities. Masters thesis submitted to the Cultural Studies Program of the Department of English at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

Reid, E. (1995). Virtual Worlds: Culture and Imagination. In S. G. Jones (ed.), Cybersociety: Computer-Mediated Communication and Community, (pp. 164-183). London: Sage.

Rosenberg, M.S. (1992). Virtual Reality: Reflections of Life, Dreams, and Technology: An Ethnography of a Computer Society.

Carlstrom's (1992) sociolinguistic study examines the popular MUD LambdaMOO, and points out several notable differences between MUD communication and real life communication, including issues of proxemics, turn-taking, and the uses of silence.

Carlstrom, E. (1992). Better Living Through Language: The Communicative Implications of a Text-only Virtual Environment. Unpublished paper.

Lynn Cherny at Stanford University has produced a wealth of important linguistic studies, such as her (1994) analysis of gender-based language differences as evidenced on one MUD, and a (1995a) study of the objectification of users' virtual bodies on MUDs.

Another article (Cherny, 1995b) points out the details involved in MUD communication backchannels, implicitly satisfying Kiesler's query, "Consider the consequences if one cannot look quizzically to indicate if the message is confusing or nod one's head or murmur 'hmm' to indicate that one understands the other person," (Kiesler, Zubrow, & Moses, 1985, p.82).

Finally, Cherny's (1995b) effort examines the modal complexity of speech events on one MUD, and suggests a possible classification system for MUD nonverbal communication, including conventional actions, backchannels, byplay, narration, and exposition.

(*see above for Cherny citations)

Michael Holmes is another scholar who has contributed to the literature on MUDs. His (1994) study of MUD environments as compared to Internet Relay Chat (and other similar "chat" utilities) concluded that the chat services "supply a stark context for conversation", while MUDs furnish "a richer context intended to model aspects of the physical world," (Holmes, 1994).

Similarly, his (1995) examination of deictic conversational modalities in online interactions sheds light on such curious observed utterances as "Anyone here near Chicago?", (Holmes, 1995).

Holmes, M. E., and Dishman, J. E. (1994, February). Social Action in Synchronous Computer-mediated Communication: A Comparison of Two Genres. Presented at the 1994 annual conference of the Western States Communication Association, San Jose, California.

Holmes, M. E. (1995). Naming Virtual Space in Computer-mediated Communication. Etc.: A Review of General Semantics, 52(2): 212-221.

Sociologist Reid (1994) examines a MUD as a cultural construct, rather than a technical one, and addresses issues such as power, social cohesion, and sexuality. Elizabeth Reid defined a MUD program as a set of tools that can be used to create a sociocultural environment. MUDs allow the depiction of a physical environment that can be laden with cultural and communicative meaning.

Reid, E. (1994). Cultural Formations in Text-Based Virtual Realities. Masters thesis submitted to the Cultural Studies Program of the Department of English at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

Likewise, NagaSiva (1992) treats the MUD as a psychological model, but draws on Eastern philosophy, and discusses MUD experiences as mystical experiences.

Nagasiva, T. (1992). The MUD as a Basis for Western Mysticism. Essay posted to the Usenet Newsgroup sci.psychology.

Young (1994) embraces the textuality of MUD experience as postmodern hyperreality, a rich new hybrid of spoken and written communication.

Young, J. (1994). Textuality in Cyberspace: MUDS and Written Experience. Unpublished paper, Princeton University.

Curtis (1992), another noted innovator in the field (and perhaps the original author of the phrase "text-based virtual reality"), and Bruckman (1993), whose extensive work on socio-psychological phenomena in MUDs at MIT has earned her deserved respect.

Curtis, P. (1992). Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-based Virtual Realities. From the proceedings of the 1992 Conference on Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing, Berkeley, CA.

Curtis, P., and D. Nichols. (1993). MUDs Grow Up: Social Virtual Reality in the Real World. Report presented to Xerox PARC, Palo Alto, CA.

Bruckman, Amy. (1993). Identity Workshop: Emergent Social And Psychological Phenomena In Text-Based Virtual Reality.

Turkle's (1995) important book examines numerous MUD- relevant topics, including artificial intelligence and "bots" (MUD robots), multiple selves and the fluidity of identity ("parallel lives"), and the effects of anonymity. She refers to MUDs (Multiple-User Dungeons/Dimensions) as "online communities," and just as can be found in physically bounded geographical communities, MUDs have rules and regulations according to Turkle. She points out the psychological significance of role (game) playing, and reminds the reader that the word "persona" comes from the Latin word referring to "that through which sound comes", i.e., the actor's mask. Through MUDs and other forms of CMC, she believes that people can learn more about all the various masks people wear, including the one worn "in real life".

Sherry Turkle states that players participating in MUDs "become authors not only of the text but of themselves, constructing selves through social interaction." Players create a character and develop attributes for the character. The description the player gives becomes the character's self-presentation. Objects, such as houses, castles, or gifts, can also be created. In Turkle's article, one man stated that "this" is more real than my real life (Turkle, 1997, p. 73). Turkle refers to MUDs as a new blurred genre of collaborative writing. MUDs serve as places for the construction and reconstruction of identity (Turkle, 1996, p. 157).

Sherry Turkle's research focuses on the "blur of boundaries between the self and game, self and role, self and simulation" and how people may create a new identity for themselves on MUDs and distribute identities to a number of characters (Turkle, 1997). Another area of focus for Turkle is the concept of people using MUDs to act out and work out their real life, or RL, problems. She debates whether MUDs are a good form of "psychotherapy or an addiction" if used to recreate a person's problems in real life (Turkle, 1995, p. 196).

Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Turkle, S. (1996). Virtuality and its Discontents: Searching for Community in Cyberspace. The American Prospect, 24: 50-57.

Turkle, S. (1997). Multiple Subjectivity and Virtual Community at the End of the Freudian Century. Sociological Inquiry, 67 (1): 72-83.

Heather Bromberg (1996) argues that MUDs (Multiple User Dungeons/Dimensions) provide a sense of community for individuals who are isolated or needy. Perhaps this can be seen as some form of communal attachment, but Bromberg fails to clarify what she means by "a sense of community." She does not use accepted measures of communal attachment found in previous research (such as those used by Goudy, 1982, 1990; Buttel et al., 1979; and Kasarda and Janowitz, 1974) to determine this, but instead uses anecdotal evidence. Bromberg states that "MUDs offer an antidote to loneliness and malaise, allow the exploration of alternate identities and personae, offer the promise of connectivity and community and allow users to experience the feeling of mastery over their environments" (Bromberg, 1996:146). However, Bromberg offers no empirical evidence that this conclusion can be generalized to a larger population of some type.

Bromberg, Heather. 1996. Are MUDs Communities? Identity, Belonging, and Consciousness in Virtual Worlds. In Shields, Rob, ed. Cultures of Internet: Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications Ltd.

Serpentelli (1992), in her study of conversational structure in MUD environments, seems to corroborate this view and, in fact, to take it a step further. In her estimation, the absence of status cues and other regulating feedback has actually led to the development of a CMC-based subculture:

The increasing sophistication and widespread nature of MUD systems is an aspect of computer communication that can no longer be ignored, for it appears to be a medium which is creating an entirely new subculture, with its own language, customs, and paralinguistic means of communication (Serpentelli, 1992).

Serpentelli, Jill. (1992). Conversational Structure and Personality Correlates of Electronic Communication.

In Diane J. Schiano's article, the Classic Online Community* was categorized in terms of four broad areas of interest. These categories were users and use, sociality, identity, and spatiality. The evidence in Schiano's study points out that addiction [to MUDs] is not widespread in the population. In the study, social interaction accounted on average for more than half of total time on MUDs. Most people reported that they used only one primary character. The results suggest that "explorations of multiple identities" is not a "primary preoccupation" for most players (Schiano, 1997, p. 270-272).

*cannot find citation to this article

Relationships

The closest thing to a review of literature relating to CMC and relationship development is Lea and Spears' (1995) Love at First Byte? It is, by far, the least biased and most comprehensive, although, due to its publication date, does not include anything published after 1995. Lea and Spears argue that existing communication and personal relationship theories have ignored settings that do not involve frequent face-to-face interaction.

Lea and Spears (1995), note that relationship research "privileges certain types of relationships while neglecting others," including relationships made through CMC. On-line relationships are just one of the many understudied relationship types. Lea and Spears write that, to date, scholars have "concentrated primarily on romance, friendship, and marriage among young, white, middle-class, heterosexual Westerners whose relationships are conducted in the open..." (x). Lea and Spears argue that studying on-line relationships offers challenges to relationship research.

Lea and Spears focus on the "social context" for the development of what they call "electronic relationships," viewing all personal relationships as "socially situated" (1995). Thus, the definition of a "personal relationship," under Lea and Spears takes into account its social context.

Lea M, Spears R. 1995. Love at First Byte? Building Personal Relationships Over Computer Networks. In J.T. Wood & S. Duck (Eds.), Understudied Relationships: Off the Beaten Track (pp. 197-233). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Parks and Floyd (1996) found evidence that relationships that begin via CMC may not necessarily stay in the CMC realm. Experience with the newsgroup alt.angst details five "romantic" relationships which began within a six-month period and were discussed publicly on the newsgroup. Of these five relationships, at least three moved to an off-line/real life setting. Apparently, within Usenet groups, which sometimes are highly interactive, this is not an uncommon occurrence.

Parks, M., & Floyd, K. (1996). Making Friends in Cyberspace. Journal of Communication, 46, 80-97.

Sociologist/Psychologist Sherry Turkle, in a 1984 book, first investigated the nature of person-computer relationships. In this work, Turkle (1984) argued that computers affect the development of self, and alter one's self concept. Most notably, Turkle (1984) measured the intensity of the relationship between computers and their users. While probably not developed to the level of intensity of relationships, which characterize communal relationships, this was a preliminary attempt to examine computer-mediated relationships, even if they are one way relationships between a user and a computer.

In a more recent book, Turkle (1995) investigated how computer mediated social relationships/interactions influence individual identity. Turkle describes the virtual nature of MUDs. She discusses how the human interaction in MUDs is considered safer than real-world interaction, and she discusses the "unreal" or fantasy nature of the social interaction, which takes place in MUDs.

Turkle (1995: 9) showed how the psychology of computer mediated human interaction suggested that it involves how users view their reflections in "the mirror of the machine." She focuses mainly on the relationships that individuals have to their computers and how these relationships influence individuals' conceptions of self. This is only important in the context of community in that individuals' views of how others see them might influence the kinds of social relations, which are needed for community to exist.

Turkle, Sherry. 1984. The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York : Simon & Schuster.

Turkle, S. (1996). Virtuality and its Discontents: Searching for Community in Cyberspace. The American Prospect, 24: 50-57.

Turkle, S. (1997). Multiple Subjectivity and Virtual Community at the End of the Freudian Century. Sociological Inquiry, 67 (1): 72-83.

Social Repercussions

Research into task groups using CMC has had a broad focus. A large portion of the literature focuses on the social repercussions. Most research highlight the social disadvantages of CMC compared to face-to-face communication in areas such as the formation of personal relationships and the effects of the lack of nonverbal communication (Parks & Floyd, 1996). Other research has looked at deception and manipulation in on-line social networks (Garton, Haythornthwaite, & Wellman, 1997).

Garton, L., Haythornthwaite, C., & Wellman, B. (1997). Studying Online Social Networks. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 3(1).

Spears and Lea (1994) further supported this view by demonstrating that the anonymity inherent in CMC can be as oppressive in the hands of the powerful as it is liberating in the hands of the shy and introverted. Underscoring the fact that, in many CMC environments, existing social hierarchies supersede the aspatial characteristics of CMC, Spears and Lea explain that CMC should not be viewed as an alternative reality where "the individual can escape from the strictures of ordinary identity and interaction" (p. 449). Instead, they argue that "identity and interaction in CMC will often be grounded in the realities of identities and relations beyond CMC, which pervade the rest of our social lives" (Spears & Lea, 1994, p. 449).

Spears, R., & Lea, M. (1994). Panacea or Panopticon? The Hidden Power in Computer-mediated Communication. Communication Research, 21(4): 427-459.

Corroborating Lea and Spears (1992) and Spears and Lea (1994), Reid (1991) recognizes the importance of existing social contexts in her study of IRC. She finds that the presence of "social sanctions" was a consistent and important aspect of IRC:

The ideas of authority and freedom are often in opposition on IRC, as the newly invented social conventions of the IRC community attempt to deal with emotions and actions in ways that emulate the often violent social sanctions of the `real world' (Reid, 1991).

Reid, E.M. (1991). Electropolis: Communications and Community on Internet Relay Chat. Honors Thesis, Department of History, University of Melbourne.

The fact that the social sanctions created by the IRC community are a reflection of those seen in external society (the "real world") is consistent with Spears and Lea's (1994) view that these social contexts "pervade the rest of our social lives" (p. 449). Here we see that the characteristics of CMC, as they affect individuals, also have often concomitant effects on groups.

Lea and Spears also argue that "technology," including CMC, does not weaken social conditions of communication "so much as afford more efficient opportunities for constituting them" (229). Wellman and Gulia (1995) state that the limited research to date suggests that relationships developed on-line are "much like most of the ones they develop in their 'real life' communities: rather weak, intermittent, and specialized."

Barry Wellman and Milena Gulia. (1995). The Reality of Virtual Communities. American Sociological Association, Washington, August.

Lea and Spears (1995) point out the various arguments against CMC's ability to foster personal relationships, including relationship research and theories' emphases on (1) physical proximity; (2) face-to-face interaction; and (3) nonverbal communication a s the "essential processes of relating" between humans (233).

All in all, many researchers are asserting that only the "illusion" of community is created via CMC, that the only relationships created are "shallow, impersonal, and often hostile" (Parks & Floyd, 1996) (see Section 5, on "The Dark Side" for coverage of the "hostile" side of CMC). People interacting via CMC are, arguably, getting lower "social context information," and, according to Sproull and Kiesler (1986) become more "self-absorbed versus other-oriented" in CMC, leading to "flaming" and posturing to increase status (to negate the equalization effects of CMC) (Sproull & Kiesler, 1986).

Sproull, L., and S. Kiesler. (1986). Reducing Social Context Cues: Electronic Mail in Organizational Communication. Management Science, 32(11): 1492-1513.

Theories of reduced social cues in CMC ([ Dubrovsky, Kiesler & Sethna, 1991]; [Sproull & Kiesler, 1986]) have thus been questioned by a number of more constructivist-oriented studies ([Baym, 1995a]; [Lea & Spears, 1995]; [Mantovani, 1994]; [Myers, 1987]; [Spears & Lea, 1992]; [Walther, 1992]) whose common claim is that the availability of means of communication limited by characters typed on a computer keyboard does not prevent users from constructing their own social worlds. Social worlds, even in cyberspace, are exceedingly complex and their basic characteristics cannot be determined by any intrinsic feature of the communication medium: relationships on the net can be altogether more or less democratic, uninhibited or egalitarian than in real life, depending on an intricate pattern of elements. In fact, proponents of the SIDE model [Social Identity De-individuation (see Spears and Lea, [1992], [ 1994]) showed that in particular conditions on-line behavior can be even more social and normative than face-to-face interaction.

Dubrovsky, V. J., S. Kiesler, and B.N. Sethna. (1991). The Equalization Phenomenon: Status Effect in Computer-mediated and Face-to-face Decision Making Groups. Human Computer Interaction, 6: 119-146.

Sproull, L., and S. Kiesler. (1986). Reducing Social Context Cues: Electronic Mail in Organizational Communication. Management Science, 32(11): 1492-1513.

Baym, N. (1995). The Emergence of Community in Computer-Mediated Communication. In Steven Jones (Ed.) CyberSociety, 138-163. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Spears, R., and M. Lea. (1992). Social Influence and the Influence of the "Social" in Computer-mediated Communication. In M. Lea (Ed.), Contexts of Computer-mediated Communication. London: Harvester-Wheatsheaf.

Lea, M., and R. Spears. (1992). Paralanguage and Social Perception in Computer-mediated Communication. Journal of Organizational Computing, 2(3), 321-341.

Walther, Joseph B. and Judee K. Burgoon. (1992). Relational Communication in Computer-Mediated Communication. Human Communication Research, 19(1): 50-88.

Kiesler, Siegel and McGuire (1984) identify four features that distinguish CMC from conventional forms of communication: 1) an absence of regulating feedback, 2) incomplete or limited expressions of emotion, 3) a lack of social status cues, and 4) social anonymity. In a subsequent paper, Kiesler (1986) elaborates on the impact anonymity can have on communication:

When communication lacks dynamic personal information, people focus their attention on the message rather than on each other. Communicators feel a greater sense of anonymity and detect less individuality in others than they do talking on the phone or face-to-face. They feel less empathy, less guilt, less concern over how they compare with others, and are less influenced by norms (p. 48).

Kiesler (1986) further explains that the receivers in CMC constitute an easily accessible audience that is in fact a "social hodgepodge" and "the only clue the sender has to the receiver's identity and situation may be his or her name and writing style (p. 48)." Other commonly used indications of the receiver's status, gender, race, and appearance, are missing.

Kiesler, S. (1986, January-February). The Hidden Messages in Computer Networks. Harvard Business Review, 64: 46-60.

Smith (1992), in his sociological study of the WELL, identifies six aspects of virtual interaction that can have a significant impact on communication:

Smith (1992) points out that the partial or complete anonymity of the participants is partially a result of the effects that the first five aspects have on the communication environment.

Clearly these and other researchers (Kiesler, Siegel, and McGuire, 1984; Hellerstein, 1985; MacKinnon, 1992) have concluded that people who communicate via CMC are not subject to many of the self-imposed controls that customarily regulate communications via other media.

Kiesler, S., Siegel, J., and T.W. McGuire. (1984). Social Psychological Aspects of Computer-mediated Communication. American Psychologist, 39(10): 1123-1134.

Hellerstein, J.E. (1985). The Social Use of Electronic Communication at a Major University. Computers and the Social Sciences, 1(3): 191-197.

MacKinnon, R.C. (1992). Searching for the Leviathan in Usenet. Unpublished master's thesis, San Jose State University.

A guiding premise of CMC research, since its formation, is that CMC lacks nonverbal communication cues leaving the medium a hostile environment for communicators. Kiesler, Zubrow, and Moses found users of computer-mediated communication to "flame" users and exhibit other non-supportive behavior.

Kiesler, S., D. Zubrow, and A. Moses. (1985). Affect in Computer-mediated Communication: An Experiment in Synchronous Terminal-to-terminal Discussion. Human-Computer Interaction, 1: 77-104.

Other scholars have similarly concluded that CMC lacks the cues (verbal and nonverbal) of face-to-face communication and as a result the medium is impersonal and a cause of unsupportive communication behavior. Beniger (1986) argues that CMC transforms traditional communities into impersonal hybrids - a pseudo community. While cyberspace enthusiast, Howard Rheingold (1993), extols the Internet as a democratic agora, a place of social interaction and a virtual community. "Because of its potential to change us as humans, as communities, as democracies, we need to try to understand the nature of CMC, cyberspace, and virtual communities in every important context - politically, economically, socially, and cognitively" (Rheingold, 1993, p.15).

An assumption made in early CMC studies is that communicators in face-to-face interactions are more supportive and less likely to be hostile. While the observation of the lack of nonverbal communication de facto with the absence of physical presence is quite valid and common sense, these conclusions are based without reference or understanding of scholarship in nonverbal communication. These studies justly focus empirical attention to investigating the communication environment but fail to operationalize specific nonverbal "cues" leading to the results of hostile communication behavior. One notable exception is the scholarship of Walther and Burgoon (1992). Walther and Burgoon examined the "cues-filtered out" hypothesis of Cullnan and Markus finding contrary evidence that suggests an individual's online communication behavior is not attributable to the lack of physical presence and over time communicators adapt behaviors to similar levels of face-to-face interaction. Walther's (1993) social information processing model argues that CMC creates hyperpersonal relationships, which distill the best characteristics of relationships.

Walther, Joseph B. and Judee K. Burgoon. (1992). Relational Communication in Computer-Mediated Communication. Human Communication Research, 19(1): 50-88.

Walther, J. B. (1993). Impression Development in Computer-mediated Interaction. Western Journal of Communication, 57: 381-399.

Culnan, M. J., and M. L. Markus. (1987). Information Technologies. In F. M. Jablin, L.L. Putnam, K. Roberts, & L. Porter (Eds.), Handbook of Organizational Communication: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, (pp. 420-443). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Conclusion

Although it is easy to make assumptions about virtual communities and assume they are nothing more than encapsulations of meaningless connections made among people who have opted to live their lives through technological tools, rather than within the more accepted borders of society, this is not always the case. For some people, the experiences they have in virtual communities make them aware, sometimes for the first time in their lives, that they can make a difference in the lives of others and make them realize that although the world is large and they may never get an opportunity to visit huge sections of it, there is community out there and they have a role to play in the global web of interconnectedness.

This review certainly does not cover all the research that has exploded in the last few years, however, it does give insight into a wide range of the most important work that forms the foundation for the field and the research that has allowed new horizons to be forged in the area of computer-mediated communications.

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