Living in virtual communities : an ethnography of life online
This thesis examines some of the issues involved in the development of human relationships in cyberspace. Set within the wider context of the Internet and society it investigates how geographically distant individuals are coming together on the Internet to inhabit new kinds of social spaces or virtual communities. People 'live in' and 'construct' these new spaces in such a way as to suggest that the Internet is not a placeless cyberspace that is distinct and separate from the real world. Building on the work of other cyberethnographers, I combine original ethnographic research in Cybertown (http: /www. cybertown. com), a Virtual Community, with face-to-face meetings to illustrate how, for many people, cyberspace is just another place to meet. Secondly I suggest that people in Cybertown are investing as much effort in maintaining relationships in cyberspace as in other social spaces. By extending traditional human relationships into Cybertown, they are widening their webs of relationships, not weakening them. Human relationships in cyberspace are formed and maintained in similar ways to those in wider society. Rather than being exotic and removed from real life, they are actually being assimilated into everyday life. Furthermore they are often moved into other social settings, just as they are in offline life.