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"More than just another 'site' or 'home page,' The WELL has a sense of place that is nearly palpable."
press release

talking head CCORDING to a member of the online community The WELL, virtual communities are "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." Some of the more famous examples of these virtual communities are MUD's (Multi-User Domains, Multi-User Dungeons, or Multi-User Dimension) and chat rooms. Indeed many people who spend much of their time chatting on the internet feel that they have created cohesive communities. People who participate in these communities feel that being in them has had positive effects in their lives. However, the formation of these virtual communities have led people to question the ramifications they have for our society. Consider this true story of one person's excessive MUD use.

One such contributing factor of these virtual communities is how it will change our current notion of community. Some people are noticing that by using these virtual communities people are shifting their notion of community: from people who are in their geographical region to people who share their general interests and beliefs. Many people feel that this will be the prevailing notion of community in the future and that people who share their general beliefs will be part of their community regardless of how close they are. Ed Schwartz, a member of a discussion group on virtual communities, argues that computer bulletin boards serve to "add the final mechanism needed to insure that we never talk to people beyond our immediate friends and family on a personal level about anything." In addition, most people feel that the communities formed online will more likely be structured around individuals who share the same thoughts and beliefs, and not geographic regions. These concerns compel some into thinking that because of this, the people in these communities will fail to interact with other members who could diversify their thoughts and opinions. As a result, a sort of ideational segregation will ensue. Finally, people feel that these communities might not be as cohesively held together compared to geographical areas, as people in the virtual communities can move elsewhere with much more ease, compared to people leaving a geographical community.

However, some people still defend these virtual communities. Other people think that these communities have had a positive impact. A colleague of Ed Schwartz, Caroline Ferguson, argues that people want a lot of contact, and it does not matter in which method we obtain it, as long as it "promotes and reinforces understanding, action, and human connections." One example of a community who feels it has had a positive impact on its members is the WELL community. They compare this community to the neighborhood coffee shop, where people go to socialize with friends. The WELL community varies its purpose, from exchanging knowledge to coming together in emotionally difficult circumstances. Because of this, feel that they are a very healthy community. In fact some of their members argue that it is actually contributing to their social interactions away from the computer, as the members of this community are attending the other members weddings. Thus, some people could view it as a tool to help people interact more.

Nevertheless, there are still specific factors which raise questionable issues. One such issue is how valuable the quality of the interaction in a virtual community is compared to actual social interaction. 90% of addictive behavior among internet users is in communication forums such as MUDs, chat rooms, and e-mail. Moreover, many are concerned that the people in these virtual communities experience limited imitations of human interaction and intimacy. This is evident in one way: the difficulty of communicating your emotions over the computer. Otherwise, it would not have been the case that emoticons would have been invented, or that many of the people in chat rooms would have to invent certain actions to be typed in. What these virtual communities are trying to express is a certain emotion and feeling that one could only express unambiguously through face-to-face contact. As with the invention of these emoticons and non-verbal speech, we can see that people are trying to convey specific emotions through these computers, meaning that there is a need to express these emotions. However, the number of emotions that can be expressed cannot be matched by the number of different emoticons that you can invent. For this reason, one needs to understand that this form of communication cannot be replaced by the original old-fashioned form of talking to someone in person.