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What is a Virtual Community?

By S. Gonzales
Updated May 17, 2024
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A virtual community is a collection of individuals who interact digitally and who share common interests, ideas or goals. This type of community also can be referred to as an online community. Virtual communities can be dedicated to a specific topic, or they can seek to bring people with similar philosophies together. Either way, communication is digitally based, information is shared and membership is optional.

Virtual communities make finding individuals with similar interests, ideas and philosophies easier for many people. Opinions, ideas, knowledge and even properties can be freely exchanged between people in the community. Some virtual communities can be moderated in terms of language choice and behavior toward others in the community, but many communities aren't regulated regarding the interest or goal of the community. For example, members of a virtual community dedicated to the discussion of a historical event might have to refrain from using vulgarity in their communications, but they can be encouraged to exchange all of their opinions, ideas and knowledge about the historical event with others.

This type of group is virtual, so communication primarily is digital. Community members can correspond through email, instant messages, chat rooms, message boards, blogs or newsgroups. These communications usually are text-based, are long-term and can be archived, though video and voice chats can also be used by a virtual community.

Communication also can pour over to other websites not directly associated with the virtual community, such as social networking websites. In some cases, print communications, such as newsletters or magazines, also can be adopted. It is not uncommon for virtual community members to communication by telephone with other members of the community or to gather at a physical location, though face-to-face meetings typically are not regular nor required of community members.

Hypothetically, a virtual community can be formed around any topic that its creator chooses. A community can be devoted to discussing topics such as interpersonal relationships, self-help issues, scholarly pursuits, geographic regions or even celebrity gossip. The potential topics are endless, but the single goal of the community creator is to bring people with similar interests together for discussion and communication. By aggregating all of these individuals, the community as a whole can benefit from shared resources. For instance, appropriate web site links can be shared between community members and then discussed.

One of the main differences between a virtual community and other types of communities, including virtual work groups, is that members of a virtual community willingly join. However, despite being a community in the general sense of the world, not all members show an interest in getting to know one another on a personal level; their interest can remain solely on the community's topic. Similarly, membership turnover rate can be incredibly high, and members could even leave after a single question has been answered or one particular opinion has been shared.

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Discussion Comments

By anon356552 — On Nov 26, 2013

Very useful information, thank you!

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