What are Online Communities

There are broadly three types of online community:

Virtual communities of interest

These are groups of people - tens, hundreds or thousands - who may never have met but who have some interest or concern they wish to share using the Internet. This may be a hobby, politics or religion... it may be a rare illness, some aspect of computing or the Internet itself. The main tools for virtual communities are mailing lists, Web conferencing and newsgroups.

These communities of interest may wax and wane in their activity and can be volatile in their exchanges because those participating may have no common culture or background. They only know each other online.

Organisational communities

Increasingly organisations both large and small are setting up internal communication systems - often called intranets - which use the same technology as the Internet to enable staff to work together more effectively. These systems may be built using mailings lists, Web pages and Web conferencing, or special systems like Lotus Notus or FirstClass.

Those using the systems may be sitting at adjacent desks - or communicating across the world. While they may be diverse in their personal backgrounds and interests, their exchanges will be focussed on organisational business, and (officially at least) conducted within the culture of the organisation.

Partnerships Online is helping a number of non-profit organisations develop their own intranets including Community Action Network, and is also developing Ruralnet as a specialised system for rural organisations.

Local communities online

Many neighbourhoods, villages, towns and cities now have their own online presence... Web pages and discussions that mirror in part the 'real world' of residents, shops, businesses and civic institutions. There's more here about these communities.