Nicholas Danton 17 June 2002
Media Environment - Semester 2.
and the Concept of Virtual Community.
this assignment I will examine the topic of ‘virtual community’ by
predominately looking at the notice board on the website www.queenzone.com,
a site dedicated to the rock group Queen which began in 1996. I will look at
postings on the site to see how a sense of community is created. Furthermore, I
will refer to my own research to give my work an exciting and unique approach.
To provide an interesting basis for my work, I will also refer to the
theoretical comments which have been made about this topic.
begin I must first introduce the term ‘virtual community.’ One definition is
“a virtual community is a community sharing common interests, ideas, and
feelings over the Internet or other collaborative networks” (http://whatis.techtarget.com).
If we compare this definition to that solely describing a ‘community,’ a
strong difference is highlighted. The website http://www.yourdictionary.com
defines a ‘community’ as “an interacting population of various kinds of
individuals (as species) in a common location.” We can therefore see that
communities are based on a common location, whereas virtual communities are
based on a common interest over a communications network.
communities are therefore based around a common interest rather than
geographical location, the latter being what linked traditional communities
together. Nehrlich (1997) suggests “though the members of a virtual community
may live in diverse physical locations, they gather based on common interest in
a virtual ‘space.’” Despite perhaps never seeing who you are communicating
with, a common interest brings people together in a strong community which
resembles the closeness of a family. Such an argument is reflected by my
research. For my research I prompted Internet users to describe the feeling of
community they experience from using the Queenzone and collected the responses.
One response was:
“Actually Queenzone is a dysfunctional family…consisting mostly of
in-laws and out-laws” (MichaelVanMaldegiam).
like a family therefore, you may get on with some people and not others.
(1993) also defines virtual communities in terms of their social qualities, he
argues “virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net
when enough people carry on…public discussions long enough, with sufficient
human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.”
Rheingold (1993) therefore sees virtual communities in terms of personal
relationships which are based on involved discussions in which human feelings
can apply Rheingold’s view of virtual communities to my own research.
“Not many of us actually know each other, so you can hide behind that,
but it’s also a community because you can learn a lot about people from how
they post, I think.” (Freddie-B).
above message seems to comment that human feelings and personalities are
revealed via communication on the Internet which may form personal relationships
in the way Rheingold mentioned.
communities however are distinctly different from traditional communities as you
never see who you are communicating with. Nevertheless, such an element of
online communication is seen by some as extremely positive as it promotes a
greater equality. Nehrlich (1997) argues:
“When you are talking with somebody over the net, you have absolutely
no idea what they look like, what race they are, where they are logged in from,
and sometimes even what gender they are.”
over the Internet means you cannot judge people on their physical attributes.
Rheingold (1993) explains “people in virtual communities do just about
everything people do in real life, but we leave our bodies behind.” The
Queenzone illustrates this argument as when you communicate with others it is
through text. You can insert a photo of yourself as part of your profile which
others can view if they click beside your message, however the photo inclusion
is optional. When communicating through the Queenzone what is firstly seen is
text, whereas your appearance would firstly influence others through traditional
blurring of identity on the Internet is illustrated once again by the way
members of the Queenzone can choose a name for themselves which can eliminate
their race and gender. Often this name has some reference to the band Queen
which would promote a greater camaraderie and equality in terms of the blurring
of your identity, some of the names used on the Queenzone include Cool Cat,
Akindofmagic and Hitman. The band Queen therefore brings people together in a
common focus, Nehrlich (1997) refers to such a situation as a ‘uniting
“This uniting factor is one which is needed to form a community
anywhere; however, it is even more important within cyberspace, since there are
no attributes such as physical proximity to hold a group together.”
looking at virtual communities we can therefore gain a greater understanding of
traditional communities which can be different and similar to those online, as
we can see by their shared possession of a ‘uniting factor.’
sense of community experienced by people on the Queenzone is enhanced by the
fact that people can post their own information about events and can also ask
others for information:
“Does anyone know where I can get hold of the introduction made by
Queen at the start of the tribute gig on Mp3” (KEVPAR).
can then reply to those requesting information, resembling the close-knit nature
of idealised communities. People therefore have a greater control and access
over the media which forms their community. Hauben (1996) suggests “the Net
gives people a media they can control. This control of information is a great
power that has not been available before to the common everyday person.” Queen
fans can therefore contribute information which fulfils their needs, information
which may not be provided by traditional media such as television or radio.
information to the Queenzone and fulfilling someone’s needs may give some
individuals the sense that they are less isolated in society. Some may therefore
see the Internet as a positive tool which provides a certain ‘cure’ for
their isolation. Heim (1995) argues “‘virtual community’ seems a cure-all
for isolated people who won’t give up their isolation.”
despite the Internet’s positive intentions and promotion of easy
communication, some still do not use this medium. Watson (1997:105) refers to
‘lurkers’ and describes them as “those who read posts but do not post
themselves, remaining effectively invisible to other members of the group.”
Some users seem not to want to be part of a virtual community, like some prefer
to keep away from community life in society. The Internet can therefore promote
a community or be a distant medium depending on the user’s intention.
sense of community people experience using the Queenzone is illustrated by the
sites name. The word ‘Queenzone’ for example implies a specific area to
discuss Queen. Entering a new area may therefore be daunting to some:
“Hi all. This is my first posting here, so…since I’m a ‘zone’
virgin, please be gentle to me” (Rainbow).
a daunting feeling resembles the emotions you may feel offline. If a town person
for example had to enter a country community and meet the locals in the public
house, they too may feel a similar uncertainty.
could argue that traditional communities reinforce a sense of exclusion to
outsiders something reinforced by virtual communities. To contribute information
on the Queenzone you have to login as a member. Once you have done this a
password is sent to you. Users then have to type in their password and their
email address each time they want to post some information. One could suggest
that this restricts ease of accessibility. Dedicated Queen fans may not mind
following this long process as it will bring them nearer to their idols,
however, non-Queen fans may find the login process rather tedious, discouraging
them from joining the discussion.
could suggest that when online you therefore only meet a certain restricted
group of people. Rheingold (1993) explains:
“The places I visit in my mind, and the people I communicate with from
one moment to the next, are entirely different from the content of my thoughts
or the state of my circle of friends before I started dabbling in virtual
(1993) seems to be suggesting that online communities are part of another world
which allows you to choose your thoughts and friends. Virtual communities are
therefore based on a sense of exclusion. Hauben (1996) argues “on the Net, one
can connect to others who have similar interests or whose thought processes they
enjoy.” Such a quote seems to be suggesting that you can connect with others
who interest you and exclude others that do not. However, in traditional
communities based on physical location you may meet others with different views,
increasing your knowledge and understanding. One could therefore suggest that
interest based virtual communities, like the Queenzone, are limited in terms of
those you meet and the views you engage with.
virtual community based around Queen fans is part of the fan and star
relationship. One could argue that this is a particularly distant relationship
as fans may never see or speak to the star they admire. This distant
relationship is also mirrored in the relationships the fans share. Before the
Internet fans may have communicated with others from around the world at
conventions or through magazines based around a specific star and may have only
briefly talked to them once a year for example. One could argue that as the fan
community was based on distant relationships it particularly suited the distant
form of communication promoted by the Internet. Now fans have use of the
Internet they can meet more regularly, however, they will still never get to
know the star they are admiring, in the same way that they will never know who
they are communicating with.
provide a more accurate picture of those who are part of virtual communities, I
asked the users of the Queenzone for their gender, age and nationality. My
research indicated that there was a higher proportion of males to females
engaging with the Queenzone (figure
Such results reinforce the findings of Hauben (1996) who suggested “there is a
relatively large male to female population on the Net.” I also discovered that
most users were from Western countries (figure
reinforcing the research on http://mysiteinc.com/taxfreedom/demographics.html,
users were also mainly in their teenage years (figure
characteristics of those who use the Queenzone inform our understanding of
Internet users in general. One could therefore suggest that it is mostly
males using the Internet who are stereotypically more technologically aware. The
teenage group are also stereotypically more interested in music, the basis of
the Queenzone and would have unlimited time access to the Internet at School,
College or University. The Western origins of the users also reinforces the idea
that more Internet users are from developed countries with technologically
can therefore see that those who use the Queenzone have similar characteristics
reinforcing a strong community. However, we could again say such a community is
limited as it predominantly revolves around a certain young, male and Western
group, the group traditionally treated with the most status in society. Although
the Queenzone is just one example of a virtual community it does make us wonder
whether other virtual communities are limited to members with such
the limited nature of virtual communities, some have still stressed the sense of
liberation attached to them. Rheingold (1993) suggests that the Internet can
reinforce what Habermas (1991) referred to as the public sphere, he argues “we
temporarily have access to a tool that could bring conviviality and
understanding into our lives and might help revitalize the public sphere.” The
public sphere is a place where people can talk and argue about different issues
for the good of society. Such sense of varied public discussion prompted by
virtual communities is illustrated by a quote by Hauben (1996), “Net society
differs from off-line society by welcoming intellectual activity. People are
encouraged to have things on their mind and to present those ideas to the
Net.” Users of the Queenzone for example are encouraged to post new topics
about various issues in an effort to stimulate discussion with others, an
example could be a topic started about the song Imagine which Queen performed:
“I have heard that it was only played live once, and I have also heard
that they played it from the day Lennon was shot (or whatever show they had
right after) until the end of the tour. So what really happened?” (Mr. Bad
way in which people can post new topics illustrates how the Internet can be a
participatory intellectual area. However, virtual communities are based around a
shared interest so what they discuss reinforces similar views and is not an
overall reflective public discussion. One could therefore suggest that you only
learn about one issue which in this case is the band Queen.
one could still argue that virtual communities are more liberating than
traditional communities due to the control users access over their virtual
space. A member of the Queenzone feedback team commented:
“Queenzone isn’t really regulated. If you start deleting/editing
posts cries of ‘free speech’ abound (and rightly so). I guess it is just
self regulation, with people arguing out any differences they may have” (firstname.lastname@example.org).
this case the virtual community is not controlled by rules and regulations in
the manner of traditional communities. Participants can say what they wish which
defines virtual communities as distinctly different areas of communication.
fan community could therefore be classed as untraditional as it is based around
a star and not geographical location as is a traditional community. One could
therefore argue that this non-traditional community has repositioned itself on
the Internet as it serves its needs more conveniently than traditional media
like magazines. Such a situation has raised concerns from the Queen fan club
magazine. The editorial of The Official International Queen Fan Club magazine
(Winter 2002) states:
“Due to the huge popularity of the Internet and particularly
Queenonline and the fan club website, we have had to have a re-think on the
content of the fan club magazines. It’s obvious that any ‘news’ that we
print in the magazines is, to those with Internet access, ‘old’ news by the
time you get the magazine due to the speed it gets on the websites.”
could argue that fan club magazines have a great deal to worry about. Some fan
websites have developed from being purely textual like the Queenzone, to being
fully interactive. The band Aerosmith have teamed up with Worlds.com and have
produced Aerosmith Worlds Player. Once fans have downloaded this software from www.worlds.net
they can walk around Aerosmith World as different characters and talk to other
fans in a 3D virtual reality world (appendix
In the World you also have the chance to watch Aerosmith play live and can
download other interactive rooms to enhance your experience.
fan community have therefore embraced the new medium of the Internet and this
medium has responded and enhanced their desires to get closer to the stars they
admire. The fan community’s embracement of the Internet has therefore had an
effect on other mediums such as print which maybe declining as illustrated by
the Queen fan club magazine.
researching this topic I also gained a greater understanding of the Internet as
a research tool. I found that it was almost impossible to find information on
virtual communities with relation to fans. Many of the sites dedicated to
virtual communities which the search engines highlighted were business sites
interested in advertising and marketing companies to profitable virtual
communities (http://home.teleport.com/~smithjd/lern/IPN_ovv.htm). Smith (1997)
argues that the Internet has become a marketing and advertising tool so it is
advisable to look at the motivation of Internet sites, a factor I also had to
was looking for solely academic sites, however, the search engines did not
recognise this. Such a disadvantage is highlighted by Edwards (1998) “be
careful of what you find via search engines – remember that they are mindless
robots which cannot distinguish the good from the bad.” In terms of my
research it would have been useful if the search engines could have been
programmed to solely find academic sites, however this was not an option.
research I engaged in also highlighted the ethics of using the Internet as a
research tool. Although I highlighted to the users of the Queenzone that I was
looking for comments on the issue of ‘virtual community’ for an assignment,
I did not explicitly say I would transcribe them in my research. Discussing such
studies King (1996) states “these studies often involve the lack of informed
consent, where the group members under study are unaware they are being
monitored.” One could therefore argue that my research was unethical to some
extent, however, it highlighted to me an issue I had not previously considered.
research may have therefore seemed limited by predominantly looking at one
website, however, I have gained a great insight into the ethos of virtual
communities. One could argue that virtual fan communities revolve around certain
individuals with particular characteristics, who converse about a common
interest. Such communities are very participatory often allowing users to
contribute information and engage with the site. Users also have the chance to
expose their feelings but this seems optional as such communities have been
particularly embraced by those who prefer distant communication with others.
Such individuals have left older media behind, in favour of new technology. Such
technology however seems to have brought them closer to the distant stars they
admire and further away from physical interaction and the society they live in,
a situation this community may prefer.
count = 2,947.
Habermas J (1991) The Structural Transformation Of The Public Sphere The MIT Press.
Hauben M (1996) The Net And Netizens – http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/ch106.x01
Heim M (1995) The Nerd In The Noosphere – http://www.ibiblio.org/cmc/mag/1995/jan/heim.html
King S A (1996) Researching Internet Communities http://www.concentric.net/~astorm/eth-abs.html
Nehrlich E (1997) Forming Communities In Cyberspace – http://www.nehrlich.com/cyber/cyberessay.html
Smith A (1997) Criteria For Evaluation Of Internet Information Resources – http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~agsmith/evaln/index.htm
Watson N (1997) Why We Argue About Virtual Community: A Case Study Of The Phish.Net Fan Community In Jones S G (ed) Virtual Culture. Identity And Communication In Cybersociety Sage Publications.
Appendix One From http://www-static.us.worlds.net/cgi-bin/download/download.cgi?action=min&bundle=Aerosmith1WCurrentVer
Nicholas Danton 2010: