25/05/1999 - 22:00

Virtual communities contribute to reality

25/05/1999 - 22:00


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THE Internet’s pace of adoption has eclipsed the take-up rate of all preceding communications technologies.

Virtual communities contribute to reality
THE Internet’s pace of adoption has eclipsed the take-up rate of all preceding communications technologies.

Radio existed for 38 years before 50 million people became listeners. It took 13 years before TV achieved that figure.

Once available to the public, it has taken only four years for the Internet to achieve the same. Forecasts that the Internet usage rate will reach one billion by 2002 are now common.

What we are doing today – building infrastructure, gaining access and publishing information at an unprecedented rate – is only the first phase of this revolution.

Traditional, real or geographic communities are changing significantly and being re-invented.

Online businesses are discovering the importance of developing the sense of community amongst their customers and suppliers and new Internet communities described as virtual, vertical or cyber communities are emerging with a rush.

For web literate people, there is a veritable mountain of material, which explains and debates the role and functions of the new cyber communities.

But because of the prerequisite to be web savvy, the vast majority of the population finds talk of virtual or cyber communities confusing.

In their simplest form, cyber communities are groups of people with a common interest, establishing and pursuing relationships made possible by the capacity and features of the Internet.

Perhaps the most striking contrast with traditional communities is that territory or geography is irrelevant.

When people ‘connect’ as a result of common interest, shared purpose, common experiences, shared language or the same values territorial borders and boundaries count for very little.

It is important to appreciate that in the case of cyber communities, membership of one community need not preclude inclusion in others.

Like their real world counterparts, cyber communities – public and private, personal and commercial – are being built from the ground up with the new forms of infrastructure and content.

But all our vices and virtues still achieve full expression through this new medium.

An entire new raft of human behaviour-related issues that have real life consequences, need to be addressed and resolved.

Some sceptics see cyberspace as somehow destroying the ‘real world’ and replacing it with a faint electronic simulation that is less real, less personal and less human.

I don’t share this view. In my view cyberspace cannot and will not replace the real world.

Cyber communities will supplement and support existing communities rather than supplant them.

By allowing more people to interact in more and different ways and in more settings, cyberspace will facilitate greater communication, more participation, deeper human connections and more sophisticated communities.

The Internet revolution has ushered in an era which makes it possible for us to communicate easily, immediately, universally, inexpensively and, more importantly, on our own terms.

The net did not, however, come with a handbook. Part of the excitement of waking up each day in the midst of this revolution is learning to work on different parts of the canvas.


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