Community-Building on the Web

This book is about building online communities:

How is a Web community different than one in the real world? In terms of their social dynamics, physical and virtual communities are much the same. Both involve developing a web of relationships among people who have something meaningful in common, such as a beloved hobby, a life-altering illness, a political cause, a religious conviction, a professional relationship, or even simply a neighborhood or town. So in one sense, a Web community is simply a community that happens to exist online, rather than in the physical world.

But being online offers special opportunities and challenges that give Web communities a unique flavor. The Net erases boundaries created by time and distance, and makes it dramatically easier for people to maintain connections, deepen relationships, and meet like-minded souls that they would otherwise never have met. It also offers a strange and compelling combination of anonymity and intimacy that brings out the best and worst in people’s behavior. It can be near impossible to impose lasting consequences on troublemakers, and yet relatively easy to track an individual’s behavior and purchase patterns—which makes Web communities notoriously difficult to manage. To complicate matters further, the legal issues involving privacy, liability and intellectual property on the Web are just beginning to be addressed, and will evolve rapidly over the next few years.