New Media, Communities, and Social Practice--An Introductory Tutorial

The first chapter is described as an "introductory tutorial" to the concepts and topics in the remained of the book and provide some key background information.

The focus of the book is on "virtual community" practices that have been enabled or facilitated by recent changes in technology and its application (Web 2.0). To be specific, it is focused on three concepts: new media, community, and social practice.

A "running hypothesis" is stated: New social media (technology) enables a variety of virtual communities (groups) in a variety of domains (subject matter) resulting in the reproduction of existing social practices and the formation of new practices. This raises many questions, which can be answered from various perspectives (technology, social science, etc.)


The characteristics of a medium influence the way in which it is applied and used. As an example, a local newspaper is largely a one-way communication method that provides (relatively) recent information to people in a limited geographic area. In the same way, the characteristics of virtual communities are enabled (and restricted) by the nature of New Media (e-mail, instant messaging, Web pages, multimedia, mobile devices, etc.)

The social media have a number of characteristics that make them innately different from traditional media: social media are not finite (no limit to "pages" of content or "time" of broadcast) and depend on the active participation of the audience in developing and delivering content to one another (as opposed to a central source that broadcasts to all).

(EN: Many social media theorists conveniently over look the "letters to the editor" and "op-ed" pages in many publications that attempted to be more open to dialogue and enable readers to contribute information to one another - in all fairness, it's easily overlooked, and as none too popular because of the difficulty and distance in making traditional media "interactive.")

Social media can be described as the tools/artifacts that enable users to interact online, but "interaction" is a multifaceted issue, given that each person goes online with his own purposes and the nature of "groups" is dynamic. The medium and technology facilitate all manner of social interaction that might occur in meatspace, regardless of physical location.

A shortcoming of the Web is that it lacks the richness of real-life interaction, relying heavily on text communication among disembodied individuals in highly abstract "places." It's also noted that the most prevalent use of virtual community is a secondary medium, where people who meet and interact in the real world merely extend or sustain their relationships using the computer technology.

Another distinction is said to be the lack of "civil inattention" - the ability to be present without being an active participant, or to be present without declaring one's presence. (EN: I think this is filled by "lurking" online - but perhaps the point is that a lurker online isn't considered an active member of a group?)

While the Internet has long been a place in which people interact, it is a relatively recent phenomenon to attempt to develop "places" for interaction. A person could post and maintain information, communicate, and interact with other users, even before Blogger and Facebook came into existence. The latter merely facilitate this behavior, standardize it, and make it more accessible to the average person.


The concept of "community" is also relatively new, and has not been a topic of much interest or study until the late 19th century. While people have for many years lived in groups out of necessity and happenstance, the concept of "community" as a group that one voluntarily joints, and as an entity with a common purpose, is largely new.

The author defines "types" of communities by the nature of their interaction:

  1. Social Interaction - Individuals communicating in a happenstance and as-needed manner, without any sense of lasting relationship
  2. Social Networking - Individuals seeking to foster "relationships" with one another, one-to-one or in groups
  3. Knowledge Management - Groups of individuals attempting to forge a common understanding
  4. Value-Created Networking - Groups of individuals attempting to work toward common goals

The term "Virtual Community" (coined in 1994 by Howard Rheingold) initially applied to a group of individuals who interacted on a regular basis in a given virtual place (such as a chat room or bulletin board), generally due to a common interest or shared purpose. The "community of practice": is generally related to a specific discipline or field of study - but in addition to gathering knowledge, communities are said to fulfill "social, psychological, functional, and hedonistic" needs of their participants.


The term "practice" has multiple connotations, but is largely accepted to mean the activities and behaviors that further the interests of a group and thereby contribute to the value of the community to its members. They may be as formal as "rules of conduct" or they can be unspoken, but understood, guidelines for action, without which the community would lose its cohesion or value to its members.

(EN: The author mentions four "kinds" of practices - creative, technical, engineering, and social - but I don't get the sense it's leading to any specific point, except as an indication that the "practice" is dependent on the nature of the group and its common values.)

The "tools" used for communication, in their capabilities and limitations (including inherent as well as intended), also influence the "practices" of communities that use them. It follows that the "new" media will have an impact on those who use it, and require "new" social practices.