NET SURFERS DON'T RIDE ALONE: VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES AS COMMUNITIESBarry Wellman and Milena GuliaAugust, 1997Department of Sociology and Centre for Urban and Community StudiesUniversity of TorontoToronto, Canada M5S 1A1[email protected][email protected]Published, 1999, in!Communities and Cyberspace,edited by Peter Kollock and Marc Smith. New York: Routledge!Networks in the Global Village,edited by Barry Wellman. Boulder, CO: Westview.AcknowledgmentsWe have benefited from the advice of our current colleagues on the Computer Networks as Social Networksproject: Janet Salaff, Dimitrina Dimitrova, Emmanuel Koku, Laura Garton and Caroline Haythornthwaite.We appreciate the advice provided by Peter Kollock and Mark Smith, and by our computer sciencecolleagues in the now-completed Cavecat and Telepresence projects: Ronald Baecker, William Buxton,Marilyn Mantei and Gale Moore. Financial support for this paper has been provided by the Social Scienceand Humanities Research Council of Canada (General and Strategic grants), Bell Canada, the OntarioMinistry of Science and Technology, and the Information Technology Research Centre. We dedicate thischapter to science-fiction personage Judith Merril who net surfed for fifty years until her death in Sept.,1997.
1Message on the Net to the Apple Internet Users distribution list, August 3, 1995. Fittingly, the message was forwarded toWellman in Toronto by Steven Friedman, a DL member and friend of Wellman's who lives in Israel. Yet the interaction is not solelya product of virtual community. The relationship between Wellman and Friedman developed out of a close childhood friendship ofWellman's wife and was reinforced when the Wellmans spent April, 1995 visiting Israel.NET SURFERS DON'T RIDE ALONE:VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES AS COMMUNITIESHope, Hype and RealityCan people find community on-line in the Internet? Can relationships between people who never see,smell or hear each other be supportive and intimate? The debate fills the Internet, the airwaves, and especially the print media. Enthusiasts outnumber critics,for as the prophet Jeremiah discovered millennia ago, there is more immediate reward in praising the futurethan in denouncing it. Unfortunately, both sides of the current debate are often Manichean, presentist,unscholarlyand parochial.The Manicheanson either side of this debate assert that the Internet either will create wonderful newforms of community or will destroy community altogether. These dueling dualists feed off each other, usingthe unequivocal assertions of the other side as foils for their own arguments. Their statements of enthusiasmor criticism leave little room for the moderate, mixed situations that may be the reality. The up-to-the-minuteparticipants in this breathless debate appear to be unaware that they are continuing a century-old controversyabout the nature of community, although with new debating partners. There is little sense of history.