This researcher rejects the existence of online communities because computer mediated group discussions cannot possibly meet this definition. Weinreich's view is that anyone with even a basic knowledge of sociology understands that information exchange in no way constitutes a community.
For a cyber-place with an associated computer mediated group to be labeled as a virtual settlement it is necessary for it to meet a minimum set of conditions. These are: (1) a minimum level of interactivity; (2) a variety of communicators; (3) a minimum level of sustained membership; and (4) a virtual common-public-space where a significant portion of interactive computer mediated groups occur (Weinreich, 1997). The notion of interactivity will be shown to be central to virtual settlements. Further, it will be shown that virtual settlements can be defined as a cyber-place that is symbolically delineated by topic of interest and within which a significant proportion of interrelated interactive computer mediated group communication occurs (Weinreich, 1997). It also follows that the existence of a virtual settlement demonstrates the existence of an associated virtual community (Weinreich, 1997).
It has been argued by some sociologists that our understanding of community begins with an examination of interaction and that leads to commitment to a given place and group. Both communities and virtual communities are composed of groups. Previous research defines group as a number of persons who communicate with one another often over a span of time, and who are few enough so that each person is able to communicate with all the others, not at second hand, through other people, but face-to-face. Additionally, a chance meeting of casual acquaintances does not count as a group.
Other researchers indicate that it is possible just by counting interactions to map out a group quantitatively distinct from others. The impact of new technologies suggests that our understanding of what makes up a primary human group needs to be radically changed. This is because interactive-group-communication no longer requires face-to-face communication and is not restricted to a few people. The extent to which online communities are dependent on interactive communication represents a significant departure from the more traditional mass media forms and emphasizes the need for a paradigm shift by media researchers. At the same time the advent of online communities has further highlighted the importance of human interactions.
Characteristics of Online Communities
Other researchers have interactivity is not a characteristic of the medium, rather that it is the extent to which messages in a sequence relate to each other, and especially the extent to which later messages recount the relatedness of earlier messages. Interactivity is an expression of the extent to which in a given series of communication exchanges, any third or later transmission is related to the degree to which previous exchanges referred to even earlier transmissions. This definition of interactivity recognizes three levels of communication: two-way non-interactive communication; reactive communication (or quasi-interactive); and fully interactive communication. Two-way communication is present as soon as messages flow bilaterally. Reactive communication is when in addition to a bilateral exchange, later messages refer to earlier ones. Fully interactive communication requires that later messages in any sequence take into account not just messages that preceded them, but also the manner in which previous messages were reactive. In this manner interactivity forms a social reality.
The literature regarding online communities is insistent that interactive communication is a necessary condition for a series of computer mediated messages to demonstrate the existence of a virtual community. Some researchers have defined online communities as a set of on-going many-sided interactions that occur predominantly in and through computers linked via telecommunications networks. Rheingold stated that virtual communities result from public discussions with sufficient human feeling to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace. This is because online communities are long-term, computer-mediated conversations they are both indirectly acknowledging the interactive nature of virtual communities. Long-term meaningful discussions or conversations require interactivity.
The second necessary condition of an online community is a variety of communicators, which is linked to the first condition of interactivity. Clearly, if there is only one communicator there can be no interactivity. It is commonly understood that online communities exist within cyber-space. Some authors have noted the connection between common-virtual public space and virtual community. Fernback and Thompson (1995) define virtual communities as social relationships forged in cyberspace through repeated contact within a specified boundary or place that is symbolically delineated by topic of interest. Therefore, some researchers have indicated that an online community needs a virtual-space, but at the same time a virtual community is not equivalent to its cyberspace.
By arguing that a necessary condition for virtual communities is the existence of a virtual-place it is possible to distinguish between an online community and a number of other categories of computer communication. This is because this requirement distinguishes a virtual settlement from private communication where postings go directly from one individual to another with no common virtual-place. A similar process can be noted in non-virtual human settlements where there is often overlap in the citizenship and allegiances and where a variety of social structures exist. At the same time the notion of common public space raises the issue of when an area of cyberspace consists of one or many virtual settlements.
As noted above, some of the first online communities resulted from the online bulletin board services of the mid-1970s. It is likely that these early bulletin board services were accurately associated with the label virtual communities because the necessary conditions specified here were met. However, these early systems were not originally connected to the Internet and as such often catered to geographic localities. Users were likely to participate in many of the discussion areas contained on the bulletin boards so that user interaction was often at the level of the bulletin board services. The virtual common-public space was the bulletin board itself.
Economic Aspects of Online Communities never-ending endeavor of the corporate world is the establishment of trust in business relationships. Contracts that end with a handshake come only after many hours of negotiation, compromise, face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations. These contacts detail the boundaries of an agreement and clarify a system of personal trust between the parties. The trust established through personal contacts, however, does not easily transcend to e-business, where documents are exchanged over Internet. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Signature Act) was signed into law on June 30, 2000 as a resolution.
The Act established a manner in which an electronic signature (e-signature) can substitute for an actual written signature.
The Act's goal was to put contracts in electronic form with electronic signatures on equal footing with their paper-based counterparts. The act says an electronic contract, signature or record is legally equivalent to a hard-copy contract, signature or record. It attempts to provide the consumer with an opportunity to make an informed choice in deciding whether to use an electronic signature. The Act requires the consumer's consent to using an e-signature but fails to detail the technical requirements of an electronic or digital signature or recommend implementation models.
E-signatures can be obtained through secured processes, such as secret passwords or digital fingerprints, or clicking an acceptance button on a Web page. It defines an electronic signature as "an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record." This lets vendors offer a range of options for signing electronic documents. Many of these options, however, do not take into account the risks inherent in electronic signatures, including fraud and the liability for insecure signatures. Flaws in e-signature software may result in susceptibility to hackers and identity theft.
The use of an electronic signature is more efficient for the corporation - it creates less paperwork, an organized method in which to track signed documents, and none of the hassles of in-person meetings and negotiations. That being said, it is beneficial to the corporate world to have access to the appropriate software with which to contract electronically. Since the consumer must also be appraised of his right to stop using the electronic form and continue contracting in paper form, it is significant to portray the electronic process in the most desirable light.
As unethical as it sounds, businesses have the most to gain from electronic signatures. The option of an e-signature makes it easier for consumers to accept contractual obligations. It is not unusual for individuals to download software or other products from the Internet while clicking through the host of limitations on liability that producers have placed on their products. As people in online communities have become accustomed to instantaneously purchasing and receiving products without a traditional writing, much of the public has become careless. Many consumers fail to read the disclaimers, and very well may enter into contracts without the proper reflection a written instrument usually attains.
The consumers belonging to the online community, and the…