Anesa’s thinking about where the borders of linear programming lie. I’m thinking about where the borders are on virtual communities.
A lot of people I read (I’m reading Gary Burnett on information exchange in virtual communites, at the moment) characterise a virtual community as what you see happening online. It’s the people posting and it’s what they post.
The community has a lot of subsets: newbies, who are just getting the hang of it; members, who have taken a recognised part in a sizeable and interesting thread, lurkers who are hidden away on the fringes.
However Katz (Luring the lurkers – archived on slashdot) argues that the online stuff is just the tip of the iceberg and that you don’t understand a virtual community at all if you only look at how it interacts in public.
For him, many lurkers are interested parties who are often willing and able to communicate on a one-to-one basis but are not happy with the risks and costraints of posting to the whole community. Katz’s piece may be grey literature but it’s a really useful view of lurking.
Katz also says that, while the public face of what happens in his blog is that there is an enormous amount of flaming in fact, hidden from the public gaze, is a huge amount of one-to-one supportive and helpful communication.
Ruth Brown (see below. (Must post more notes on her article.)) also looks at the extension of the community away from the public forum. For her, the top membership level of a virtual community are those people who are communicating away from the public forum – the ones who are emailing each other, ringing each other and meeting face to face.