Digital Communities


A primary effect of writing in digital places is community building. In this article, I introduce two different types of online communities and how members work to build them. We are all familiar with the first type, virtual communities, which could include many social networking sites (like Facebook) or public blog sites. I put more emphasis on the second type: communities of practice. This subtype begins as virtual community which promotes and facilitates face-to-face meetings of action oriented individuals coming together to accomplish a goal. I provide an example of a virtual community that has evolved into a community of practice and analyze how and where the members use digital writing to communicate with one another and complete tasks.

Virtual Communities vs. Communities of Practice

In his survey of current research regarding online communities, Christopher M. Johnson proposes a subtype of an online community that may or may not arise from the broader concept of a virtual community. First, he defines virtual communities as “designed communities using current networked technology.” The vast majority of these communities face geographic separation and therefore a barrier of space and time. Facebook and Twitter are two examples of virtual communities. Both social networking sites are used world wide with the designed purpose of communicating with texts, pictures, and videos via modern technology (computers and cell phones). In describing the concept of the sub-community, he quotes J. Liedka who describes communities of practice as “individuals united in action.” These communities value active participation, community knowledge over individual knowledge, and a symbiotic relationship among group leaders, members, and the community as a whole. Group knowledge as well as group meaning is developed through face-to-face social interactions.

Johnson describes the difference between virtual communities and communities of practice in this way: “A virtual community or any traditional organization is the designed community, whereas the community of practice is what emerges from the designed community." However, not every virtual community facilitates the emergence of a community of practice. Johnson states that in order to exist, the community of practice must have task-oriented goals.

Click here for another example of a virtual community which uses digital writing and online communication to facilitate face to face gatherings, that is, a community of practice.

Example is an online community which facilitates the organization of face-to-face meetings among members who have common interests, or who are trying to accomplish a common goal. Meetup believes that people can change their personal world, or the whole world, by organizing themselves into groups that are powerful enough to make a difference.” While many groups are in fact action oriented, as is the case for one of the most popular Meetup groups: the Occupy Wall Street (and other cities) group, and many volunteer groups supporting sustainability and community service to name a few, it is also easy to find a Meetup group that is entertaining and comical, as in the case of the group created for women who wear shoes sized eleven or larger. In addition to these types of groups, there are also groups that meet for recreation, academics, and even sex (discussing sex, not participating in it). Different components of the website include members' individual home pages, the Organizers' forum, and thousands of different group home pages.

Anyone can create an account and join a Meetup group without ever attending a group meeting. They can do this to gain insight on a particular movement or simply to discuss similar interests on an online-only basis. As a member, even if I’m not looking to get actively involved in politics or volunteer my services for the greater good of humanity, the authors of the various pages promote having a good time and socialization in a face-to-face environment with similar individuals even if the activity is something as small as meeting for drinks. On the other hand, for individuals with task-oriented goals, by RSVP-ing to an event, they’re contributing to the formation of a community of practice in which they can support and be supported by others in action towards a common goal that is facilitated by online and face-to-face mediation. This exhibits a key difference between this site and many other popular social networking sites: is geared toward breaking the barrier of space and time that separates most online communities.

Communicating in Communities of Practice

A great deal of the interactive, site-wide communication is done in the Organizers' Forum.The first few posts in the forum are by staff and are intended to offer tips for successful organization of a new group. It provides information on how to get started and a list of resources available to organizers. The helpful advice and resources offered by the site’s administration facilitate effective group meetings and pleasant leader-member relationships and help set the pace for things to run smoothly. Then there is an actual forum in which organizers of different groups can communicate with one another. Admittance to the forum is not restricted to organizers, so members are also welcome to provide feedback. These can range from technical questions about the website’s operation to angry blog-like rants and complaints. Many posts in the forum are the first step to conflict resolution of one’s group. In a recent post, Stephen Nestel, a group organizer, explains his conflicting motives with an overbearing group member. When the original leader of the group moved away and abandoned his or her duties, Stephen took a proactive community based approach as the new organizer. He explains that he has no interest in the title of “leader” and then describes a problematic group member “X” and exposes her conflicting intentions and his current dilemma: “I feel that I must assert authority to protect the group from domination by Organizer X who sees the club as an income opportunity and an ego boost.” Finally, he directly asks the users of the forum if they’ve ever encountered a similar power struggle and how they dealt with the situation. In response, the common opinion of repliers was directed at promoting the well-being of the group as a whole even if that meant (unfortunately) having to remove a disruptive member. This forum is the most influential part of By providing a place where group leaders can communicate back and forth, new leaders can gain knowledge from more experienced ones and leaders of all levels of experience can gain insight from the perspective of their members. This provides a good foundation on which new groups can continue to flourish.


Through this social network, individuals of different ages, ethnicities, and social backgrounds can find group membership among those with similar interests and become a small part of something bigger which may be anything from a meaningful political movement to a small get together for cocktails and conversation. This website illustrates a community of practice in which its' promotion of face-to-face group interaction is breaking the barrier of space and time in providing an online place to organize in-person meetings where action oriented individuals come together to work toward a common goal.


Johnson, Christopher. “A Survey of Current Research on Online Communities of Practice”
Internet and Higher Education. 4 (2001) 45-60. Karlsruhe University of Applied
Sciences, Moltkestr. 30, 76133 Karlsruhe, Germany. Web. 1 Nov 2011. 2001. Meetup Inc. New York City, NY. Web. 1 Nov. 2011.