Blogs as Virtual Communities: Identifying and Sustaining Sense of Community (SOC)
Anita Blanchard in Into the Blogosphere writes why it’s important to identify if a community is a virtual one . Virtual communities can’t substitute for the real ones, but they can extend social relationships. Creating an ambiance of emotionally positive feelings helps sustain participation. Through web survey of readers in an active blog, the Julie/Julia Project, she delineates virtual settlements from virtual communities.
Not all virtual settlements are virtual communities; check out how you felt about your participation in a group and see if you have that Sense of Community (SOC), as identified by McMillan and Chavis (1986):
- 1) Feelings of membership: Feelings of belonging to, and identifying with, the community;
2) Feelings of influence: Feelings of having influence on, and being influenced by, the community;
3) Integration and fulfillment of needs: Feelings of being supported by others in the community while also supporting them; and
4) Shared emotional connection: Feelings of relationships, shared history, and a “spirit” of community.
In exploring the Julie/Julia project, Blanchard identifies a key element of community development: the way lurkers participate in virtual communities. Lurkers in most other virtual communities participate by reading others comments. Thus their feelings of community remain strong. However in blogs, they can bypass other participants comments and stick to only the author’s blog posts. When the blog author is gone, is there a big enough group in the Julie/Julia project to continue to interaction w/ one another? Blanchard’s survey reveals readers failed to put up a fan club for the blog, and confirms suspicion that the sense of community was weak.
Without enough engaged, connected, and attached participants the blog settlement won’t make the transition to a blog community. And this limitation may be inherent in the blog tool’s collaborative features.
Blogrolls and interaction between other blogs via the RSS tool reduces dependency on an individual to sustain the community. Thus, we can see here that a single blog clusters people with like interests, and links and RSS leads them to a bigger community in the blogosphere, where the interactions are both cooperative as well as collaborative. Or a team blog would be a convergence of several like minded individuals, where the sense of community may be sustained due to the availability of multiple discussion leaders. I saw this in pinoytechblog .