Virtual Communities: Definition, Types & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is a Virtual Community?
  • 1:04 Basis for Virtual Communities
  • 2:27 Who Can Join a Virtual…
  • 3:02 Health and Society
  • 4:38 Popular Types of…
  • 6:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kent Beckert

Kent is an adjunct faculty member for the College of Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and has a Master's degree in Technical Management.

During this lesson we will explain how having different interests, fears, and opinions can be reflected in a virtual community. We will define a virtual community and discuss the various types of virtual communities, plus explain what is needed to join one.

What Is a Virtual Community?

Everyone is different. We all have different things that interest us and scare us, and our opinions about some topics vary significantly. Many of us search the Internet looking for other individuals having similar interests, fears, and opinions and who are willing to share. The best forum for such sharing is a virtual community (VC).

Let's define a virtual community as an online gathering of individuals who share interests, fears, and personal opinions. For example, we may join a VC to support a presidential candidate, to provide support to a family with a child recently diagnosed with cancer, or to cheer for our favorite sports team. People join a VC to gain freedom of expression and to interact with others without being concerned with country boundaries, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or political views.

Basis for Virtual Communities

People create and establish VCs online to provide a forum by which individuals can share information regardless of the subject matter. One community may focus on specific member characteristics, such as age or gender, while another focuses on types of merchandise, like specialized carpenter tools. Engaging in fantasy sports is another popular VC theme, while at the other extreme, some VCs provide emotional support for seriously ill or injured patients and their relatives.

Some VCs are composed of individuals engaged in work-related activities. These are called professional communities, which are often referred to as Communities of Practice (CoP). In this type of community, members typically share trade secrets. For example, a world renowned chef may exchange a secret recipe with other community members. Additionally, a customer-based VC formed by commercial companies establishes an environment where customers can openly share and disseminate information to other customers and company representatives. A customer community encourages product-related feedback and is also a good source for tips and advice about using more efficiently the device you just purchased.

Who Can Join a Virtual Community?

Anyone can join a VC of their choice as long as the required technology, like hardware, software, and connectivity, is obtained. For options, there are chat rooms and VCs offering specific and detailed information about products and services, as well as personal associations through E-mail. Social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, are gaining popularity, as are international gaming VCs, like the World of Warcraft game. The media sharing world is also represented by VCs like Pinterest and YouTube.

Health and Society

Virtual communities offer a wide range of information and support opportunities for our society. As an example, in the area of health, we have the CaringBridge VC. Caringbridge began as a website for patients, medical professionals, and acquaintances to provide a space to discuss medical procedures and options relating to a loved one's condition and care. The website became a VC over time when individuals began creating their own websites documenting personal family medical situations and stories. Visitors frequented the self-generated websites looking for information and, in return, usually provided their own emotional support for those in need.

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