Research For Education
Researchers and ethnographers have entered virtual worlds like Second Life to research, interview and study the inhabitants. Whole classes of researchers have been known to swarm into Second Life London to quiz the local inhabitants there. I was approached by someone for this very thing yesterday.
I was asked about how to build a virtual community. This is something I get asked a lot by students.
This is what I told her:
What Are Virtual Communities?
I would say that a virtual community is the fluid interaction of members who consider themselves to be part of that community.
They are never static, but always in a state of flux. With members coming and going all the time. All virtual communities are interconnected with other virtual communities. For example, visitors to London may also be involved with vampires, breedables or other special interest groups. Like all groups, people collect together and team up over a central theme. This is the crux of any social interaction and community.
You should also see that there are some critical facts about online communities that make them the same as all other communities – since time began. These facts have been true since prehistory and are still relevant today in our new online virtual communities. Studies in Turkey showed that ancient populations numbered around 100-150 individuals, broken down into smaller units of 5 persons per house.
These follow Dunbar’s numbers – the smallest social unit being 5 intimate friends. This appears to hold true in virtual communities as well. Facebook has spent time and money in Robin Dunbar to grow their own vast community. It only goes to follow that others will look at this and use it as well.
So, I’d say that communities are virtually the same online as in the real world.
Now Let’s Talk About London
London is considered to be a central hub because many other groups mingle around it. You can come together in London and move away again into many other different groups. You can follow many different interests and still be part of the London community. You can be a Vampire, Goth, Steampunk, Furry, Goreean – or even a ‘Londoner’. There are lots of options of who and what to be in Second Life.
You can meet new people in London then they may want to become part of your group too. People who want to find more new friends or no longer want to belong to their community come back to London. They find something else to do, make new friends, and find new things to be interested in. It is curious to see that even in London, people collect in close groups of around 5 people.
London even has it’s own residential area and shopping district. Rentals are very cheap at around $1.50 a week! Converted into Linden Dollars, that’s L$399. Not a lot to pay to be part of a very popular community.
Is ‘London Friends’ Group A Community?
‘London Friends’ is group allocated to London. It allows a large number of people to find out what’s happening around them in London. It provides a place where people can communicate even when they’re not in the London sims. Many people in ‘London Friends’ are part of the London community. Because it’s a group of over 4500 people, it cannot be truly called ‘a community’. Many members have no contact at all with each other.
London Friends is more like a place that’s a centre for the many friendship groups that exist within it.
‘London Friends’ is the latest ‘London’ social group to be formed. Before London Friends, there were ‘London Community’, ‘London Chat’, ‘London Gossip’ and ‘Best Of British’ groups. This isn’t counting all the Club groups, resident groups and merchant groups.
How Do You Build A Virtual Community?
If people want to be there, they will be. If they don’t they will leave. You cannot force anyone to be part of a community Everyone has their own things they want to do.
‘Building a Community’ is the wrong way to think of things. Having friends around you who care about you and are looking after each other is what happens in real life. It’s simply the fact that this carries on in Second Life too.
Thanks to all my friends in Second Life.. you don’t know how much you mean to me (you do now!)